Short Report: Using complaints about communication in the emergency department in communication- skills teaching


  • Robyn Woodward-Kron University of Melbourne
  • Andrew FitzDowse Goulburn Valley Health
  • Ibtissam Shahbal Goulburn Valley Health
  • Elizabeth Pryor University of Melbourne



quality and safety, communication, complaints, emergency department, medical education


Introduction: Communication is an ongoing cause of complaints in emergency departments (EDs). These complaints can be used to inform communication skills teaching. Junior doctors are an important part of the ED team, and targeting junior doctors’ communication skills, including raising awareness about why patients complain, can contribute to an improvement in quality and safety.

Context: Two interns, a patient liaison officer and a communication researcher, developed an evidence-informed teaching module for junior doctors. The module aimed to raise awareness of why people complain about communication in the ED and to engage junior doctors in identifying strategies at the individual and system level to reduce patient complaints about communication. Complaints about doctors’ communication in the ED of a regional hospital over an 18-month period were collated and analysed thematically and the findings incorporated into the teaching module. 

Innovation: De-identified complaints were used as triggers for discussion about quality and safety, with junior doctors being asked to consider the case studies from the dual perspectives of the doctor and the patient involved, using a series of question prompts. 

Implications: Patient-complaint case studies from the hospital in which the teaching is implemented are a powerful way to engage junior doctors in communication quality and safety issues. Staff from quality and safety units can work collaboratively with educators to tailor this low-cost approach to different practice settings and health professional groups. The two-part module has been implemented in intern training and transition to practice for medical students.

Author Biography

Robyn Woodward-Kron, University of Melbourne

A/Prof in Healthcare Communication


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How to Cite

Woodward-Kron, R., FitzDowse, A., Shahbal, I., & Pryor, E. (2017). Short Report: Using complaints about communication in the emergency department in communication- skills teaching. Focus on Health Professional Education: A Multi-Professional Journal, 18(3), 60–67.