The impact of silence and compassion fatigue — researched in hospitals

Thursday, 02 June, 2016

Leading researchers at the University of Sydney Business School have embarked on two major studies into the effects of silence and compassion fatigue on patient care and health outcomes in our hospitals.

The research estimated 10% of patients admitted to hospital suffer additional harm as the result of a communication breakdown while 70% of those affected suffer death or serious injury.

“Communication often fails because healthcare professionals remain silent about important issues,” said lecturer Dr Anya Johnson. “Often it is when people withhold information or choose not to speak that errors occur or errors are not caught before they become consequential.

“Our research will look at how we can reduce silence in teams by providing strategies that will assist them to be more effective.

“This will reduce the rate of errors and incidents, improve patient outcomes and help with the sustainability of our healthcare system,” said Dr Johnson, who will be working with fellow researcher Dr Helena Nguyen.

In another research project, the two will examine “the nature of compassion” and ways of “enhancing compassion and wellbeing in a healthcare context”.

“Compassion is particularly vital for wellbeing in hospitals, which rely on staff to provide quality care in environments that often involve stress, emotional overload, overwork and tiredness.

“Compassion fatigue is a major issue for healthcare professionals as it is challenging for people working in an environment where they are confronted day after day by human suffering to maintain compassion towards those for whom they are expected to care.

“In the second project we will look at how health professions can sustain a high quality of compassionate care in an environment that is challenging, complex and often stressful,” Dr Johnson said.

The research into silence and its consequences is being supported by the Australian Research Council in partnership with the Australian Commission on safety and quality in health care, the Prince of Wales Hospital and South Eastern Sydney Local Health District.

Dr Johnson and Dr Nguyen’s study of compassion fatigue and its impact on the delivery of health care, is being funded by the John Templeton Foundation, a United States based philanthropic organisation that supports research into issues related to what it describes as “the big questions of human purpose”.

Commenting on the two projects, the Dean of the Business School, Professor Greg Whitwell, said that it reflected the school’s commitment to “leadership for good” and research that improves people’s lives.

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