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Communication barriers experienced by patients

Communication barriers are often experienced by patients with limited health literacy and seen from different perspectives.
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© eberhard grossgasteiger via Pexels CC0

Communication barriers experienced by patients can be related to various perspectives: the patient, the healthcare professional or the healthcare system.

In the video you just watched, barriers in the patient – healthcare professional interaction were identified. The Universal Precautions approach and the systematic review of Jager et al. (2019) identified further barriers for patients that include:

At the level of the healthcare professional:

  • no interest in one as a patient
  • paternalistic attitudes towards patients
  • not explaining new medication regimens adequately to patients on discharge home, so that the patient is unable to take their medication effectively.

At the level of the healthcare system:

  • lack of time
  • lack of coordination in care provision. This is illustrated by the following text and patient quote from the systematic review:
Patients experienced little communication surrounding transitions between primary and secondary care, resulting in many unanswered questions. A patient explains: “there has been no communication between the clinic and my General Practitioner. I can only tell him what I understand in the clinic.

Barriers at the level of the healthcare system can be explored further in our upcoming online course on healthcare organisations and systems. In the next steps of this course we will focus on barriers at the level of the healthcare professional and ways that these may be overcome. You will learn more about communication techniques professionals may use to adapt to patients with limited health literacy, such as: using plain language, asking appropriate questions, encouraging patients to ask questions, recognising problems in understanding, and the teach back method that can be used to check a patient’s understanding.


Jager, M., de Zeeuw, J., Tullius, J., Papa, R., Giammarchi, C., Whittal, A., & de Winter, A. F. (2019). Patient Perspectives to Inform a Health Literacy Educational Program: A Systematic Review and Thematic Synthesis of Qualitative Studies. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(21), 4300

© IMPACCT consortium
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Working with Patients with Limited Health Literacy

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