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The Importance of Effective Communication at End of Life

Effective communication is an essential skill to have no matter where you are on life’s journey, but it’s especially helpful at the end of life. It’s important for the patient, family members, and caregivers to be able to communicate effectively so all wishes and needs are met. Did you know that June is Effective Communications Month? To that end, we will explore why communication is a vital part of end-of-life care in Santa Clara and elsewhere.

Good communication is important on both the patient side and the caregiver’s side. The patient needs to be able to communicate their needs, wishes, and wants, as well as their discomfort and pain levels, hunger levels, etc. so they can receive the best possible care. Caregivers need good communication skills so they can connect with their patients, relay information to the family, understand the patient’s wishes and priorities, and support the patient and his or her family as they make difficult yet informed decisions regarding the care plan.

A patient’s preferences and needs often change quickly during their last days, weeks, or months. Good communication will ensure those evolving preferences are completely understood and carried out by the healthcare team.

Communication: Removing the Stigma Within Families

Communication at the end of life serves to remove the stigma surrounding the uneasy topic of death and dying, points out the National Library of Medicine. It can be difficult to broach the subject of dying within families because no one wants to admit what is coming. But opening up the lines of communication and talking about death with your terminally ill loved one can go a long way toward relieving anxiety for both parties. Not only does it ensure that your loved one’s final wishes regarding end-of-life care and treatment are honored properly, these important final conversations between the patient and the family will help everyone begin the grieving process while your loved one is still present.

After death, continued communication can help families move on after the death of their loved one without experiencing high levels of guilt and regret, as nothing had been left unsaid. Indeed, proper communication can help people actually grow from the experience.

Putting the focus on family at the end of life brings closure to all involved, to be sure. But it also enhances the role of family caregivers who have been making the tough decisions all along. It allows them to fully embrace the responsibility of fulfilling their loved one’s final wishes without the guesswork that can come from non-communicative families. And because family members are the main communicators with the caregiving and healthcare teams, they can succinctly pass on vital information about decisions regarding their loved one’s end-of-life journey.


Now that we have looked at the topic from an inter-family point of view, let’s take a look at the care team’s view. Dying involves so much more than medical diagnoses and decisions; there are many psychological, social, financial, and spiritual concerns as well that require the attention of an interdisciplinary team, says the AMA Journal of Ethics.

Care teams should include medical doctors, nurses, social workers, and chaplains who are on hand to meet the medical, psychosocial, and spiritual needs of both the patient and their family. Advance care planning (ACP) can be handled by the social worker, which can include duties such as initiating discussions, providing counseling, advocating for the patient’s rights, and facilitating communication and conflict resolution.

Nurses can take care of ongoing medical monitoring while evaluating treatment effectiveness and instructing patients and families about available treatments and medications. They act as the go-between when it comes to the family, patient, and the rest of the care team. They are often the ones holding the hands of the patient or hugging a distraught family member. Doctors provide the medical procedures and clinical advice that may be necessary throughout the end-of-life journey, while chaplains can address the spiritual implications of the prognosis while meeting the patient’s spiritual needs.

Effective teams work as one together to better communicate information, provide support to both the patient and family, and strive to reach goals that have been outlined from the start. Intra-team communication can ensure new information and plans are delivered in a timely and sensitive nature. In the end, a properly communicating team should form a united front when advocating for patient-centered goals.

Communication certainly benefits both sides of the end-of-life experience: patient and care team. Studies show that families’ experiences of the end-of-life care of their loved one were greatly enhanced when there was a deep mutual understanding among all healthcare professionals.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

Our caregivers, doctors, nurses, social workers, and other staff members pride themselves on effective communication throughout the end-of-life process. Find out what we offer in our program for you and your loved one when you contact us at 888-978-1306.