Effective Communication

A health professional, mother and her baby are having a conversation. The nurse health professional is thinking ‘I wonder what questions they have. Safe! Trust me.’ The mother is thinking ‘Autism? Safe? Side effects? and a Facebook logo’.
Image 5.1: Nurse and Parent Dialogue about Vaccines

When communicating with a client, it is best to focus your responses on the specific questions or concerns rather than overwhelming the client with too much information. Image 5.1 demonstrates the disconnect that can exist between provider and client priorities and perceptions. It has been well-documented that merely correcting misinformation with more information may not be an effective strategy to increase vaccine uptake. Health professionals should avoid strategies that may reinforce misinformation, such as handouts that describe vaccine myths, repeating misinformation to parents, or using elaborate arguments to contest misinformation (Lewandowsky, Ecker, Seifert, Schwarz, & Cook, 2012). Spending too much time talking about myths can strengthen the myth for the client (McClure, Cataldi, & O’Leary, 2017). Instead, health professionals should invite clients to have healthy skepticism towards vaccine hesitant sources, to focus on facts, and to keep their language simple and clear.

Health professionals are the most trusted advisor and influencer of vaccination decisions. It is important that you have the knowledge, attitude, and skills to work with clients who have questions about vaccines and it is important to understand and acknowledge the client’s concerns. Effective communication is the best way for health professionals to address vaccine hesitancy. Always speak positively about vaccination. If a health professional appears unsure about vaccine safety or cannot explain why vaccination is important, you can contribute to the client’s hesitancy. Here are some tips (Table 5.1) for effectively communicating with all clients about vaccines. See also Video Clip 5.2 for a recreation of a discussion between the healthcare provider and parents displaying vaccine hesitancy.

 

Table 5.1: Communication Tips to Address Vaccine Hesitancy

Communication Tip Pointers  
 

Adopt a client-centered approach

 

  • Use open body language when talking about vaccines.
  • Listen to the client’s concerns carefully. Do not interrupt.
  • Work towards sustained and trusted partnerships with clients.
  • Take a positive approach towards vaccine behaviours.
 

Respect difference of opinion about immunizations

 

  • Educate yourself about vaccines and common vaccine perceptions in order to engage in knowledgeable discussions.
  • Understand vaccine safety, schedules, policies, and relevance to best relay this information to your client.
  • Take a non-judgmental and non-confrontational tone.
  • Clarify concerns respectfully.
  • Be patient.
 

Represent the risks and benefits of vaccines fairly and openly

 

  • Be candid when providing an analysis of the risks and benefits.
  • Familiarize yourself with vaccine safety standards so you can speak accurately and confidently.
  • Use appropriate language that is understandable.
  • Compare risks to benefits rather than analyzing risks individually – including risk for vaccine-preventable diseases.
 

Use clear communication informed by current evidence-informed approaches

 

  • Assess the client’s understanding without assumption (including educational status, occupation, lifestyle).
  • Present evidence in a clear and understandable way.
  • Use a variety of information formats to introduce or reinforce information.
  • Reduce stress related to vaccines as much as possible through vaccination pain reduction strategies and combination vaccines when available.

 

Video Clip 5.2: Health Professional Discussion with Parents who have 2-month old child


Attribution Statement

Parts of this section are adapted from Page 5: Canadian Immunization Guide: Part 1 – Key Immunization Information by the Government of Canada and are reproduced under non-commercial conditions.

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Vaccine Practice for Health Professionals: 1st Canadian Edition by Oona St-Amant, Jennifer Lapum, Vinita Dubey, Karen Beckermann, Che-Sheu Huang, Carly Weeks, Kate Leslie, and Kim English is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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