Learning to Listen

Learning to Listen: Informal Communication and Medical Safety in the Hospital Emergency Room

Hospital emergency rooms are high-pressure environments where skilled healthcare professionals cope with every imaginable medical emergency, including gunshot wounds, trauma resulting from automobile accidents, novel infections such as SARS, and drug overdose victims.  These professionals are able to provide high quality care due to the high levels of teamwork for which they have been trained and which they exercise on a daily basis. 

Part of maintaining this teamwork is the informal communication that goes on among doctors, nurses, technicians, and emergency medical care personnel.  Just as the formal communication directs and implements the doctors’ orders, the informal communication maintains the cohesion and morale of effective teamwork.

In this innovative study an experienced ER worker has “miked up” a hospital emergency room to record on multiple channels the communication that goes on among all the ER personnel.  To date more than 300 hours of both formal and informal communication have been recorded.  Analysis of the communication – similar to the analysis of a Cockpit Voice Recorder in an airline incident – will allow researchers to observe how the informal communication maintains team performance, and, conversely, when teamwork breaks down resulting in medical errors.

Principal Investigator: Allen Batteau
Lead Researcher: Margaret Karadjoff
Sponsor: National Science Foundation