WMU News

Third edition of book on health care communication published

March 31, 1998

KALAMAZOO -- In the 13 years since Western Michigan University's Peter G. Northouse published his first book on health care communication, the industry has changed dramatically.

But one thing has remained constant, says Northouse, a professor of communication: "Effective communication is central to every aspect of the health care delivery process."

Northouse and his wife, WMU alumna Dr. Laurel L. Northouse, are the authors of the third edition of "Health Communication: Strategies for Health Professionals." Their goal is to provide health care professionals with theory-based strategies they can use to improve communication with patients, families and other health care professionals. The 322-page softcover text was published by Appleton & Lange of Stamford, Conn.

Peter Northouse, whose degrees are in communication, and Laurel Northouse, a registered nurse now teaching in the College of Nursing at Wayne State University, have updated their text to reflect current practices in the field of health care. However, many of the crucial issues remain the same, according to Peter Northouse.

"One of the key issues that the book addresses is how people share control in provider/patient relationships," he says. "What happens when people get sick is they lose a sense of control and competence. In effective health care communication, the providers are sensitive to how they can help patients get a sense of control back -- like there's some order to their life.

"Another key issue is the importance of listening and providers being empathic to the situation that people who are sick experience and all the ramifications," he adds. "Sharing bad news is very difficult for providers, but it's more difficult for patients. Being sensitive to all that is going on in patients is really important."

The book is targeted primarily at students planning to pursue careers in health care settings. However, Northouse says the first and second editions, published in 1985 and 1992, also have been read by many people experiencing illness and dealing with the health care system.

"I think they find many of the vignettes or case studies we use important and probably can relate to many of the issues that come up," he says. "In the classroom, students who have been sick frequently identify with the case studies, and that makes the content more real for them."

The text includes many new examples to illustrate topics, relating particularly to AIDS and community-based health care. In addition to using these "real life" case studies, the authors use a "systems perspective" in their approach.

"The relationships between providers and patients and providers and family members are influenced by a whole series of social/psychological variables that impact on each other," Northouse explains. "Rather than looking simply at what doctors should say to patients, we look at the kinds of things that health professionals do, how what they do has an effect on the system between the provider and the patient, and how what the patient does influences that and the other variables. In other words, we don't just look at one aspect, but how everything interrelates."

In fact, Northouse says the book is one of a few published that looks at the application of communication theory to relationships in health care settings.

"Most of the other books in health communication are either really short and prescriptive 'how to do it' books or they are books which deal on a much broader basis with the area of health promotion and how to create health messages that will help the public become healthier," he says.

Revisions in the third edition of the book were the result of both changes in the industry and suggestions from colleagues, students and reviewers.

One major update is the inclusion of a new chapter on "Intercultural Communication and Health Care." "We added this chapter because of the high demand for diversity in the workplace, particularly in health care settings, and also in the clients who are being served," Northouse says.

The third edition also includes more than 100 new citations with the latest research-based information on communication issues in health care settings.

Northouse says he thinks the practice of health care communication generally has improved since the first edition of the book was published.

"Providers are somewhat more sensitive to patients' needs," he says. "I think patients are much more involved than they were 15 years ago in their own health care, and that's had a positive impact. Do I still think there are many providers that could use to be more informed on some of these issues? Yes."

Northouse, a WMU faculty member since 1974, holds his bachelor's and master's degrees from Michigan State University and his doctoral degree from the University of Denver. Laurel Northouse earned her bachelor's and doctoral degrees from the University of Michigan. She holds a master's degree in counseling and personnel from WMU and a master's degree in psychiatric nursing from Wayne State.

Media contact: Ruth Stevens; ruth.stevens@wmich.edu

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