Vaccine & communications challenge

Health Department officials must be appreciated for going the extra mile to create a platform where the voices of citizens, their fears and anxieties are being addressed and their questions answered adopting the participatory model. Vaccination hesitancy in Meghalaya comes from several factors. Primarily, however, there is anxiety and fear of post vaccination reactions. Those involved in information dissemination to vaccine hesitant people both in rural and urban areas must address those fears from a position of empathy. It is natural for health workers armed with information to be impatient about what they think are needless fears, but, for the person on the other side those fears are real. Hence communication laced with empathy in a non-threatening space is the soft skill that can come in handy during this pandemic. Unfortunately, the pandemic left no time for health workers to be exposed to these specifically nuanced communication skills.
Added to the inherent fears about vaccination there are secondary fears arising from WhatsApp videos and messages without any scientific bases; of listening to religious preachers that believe religion trumps science or by listening to the more educated or vocal ones in the community. Countering such disinformation and misinformation requires intelligent communication skills from those entrusted to cancel out the disinformation campaign. Communication skills in doctors and nurses also helps avoid medico-legal and ethical issues. Of course, communication skills are imperative across all professions but more so when dealing with patients whose mental state is already fragile. Further, interpersonal skills are needed to respond to a patient’s feelings and concerns. As this pandemic continues to rage, all of us are prospective patients needing a listening, empathetic ear.
Communication experts speak of Patientology which implies being empathetic and understanding a patient’s state of mind; her/his fears and worries so that these can be set to rest. Unfortunately, such skills are either not taught or taught cursorily in medical and nursing schools. Experts also maintain that doctors and nurses more than anyone else need high Emotional Quotient (EQ). EQ enhances empathy and that is demonstrated by the way a health worker responds to what a patient says and also deciphers the patient’s unspoken, body language. Patientology means showing a patient or a vaccine hesitant person that she/he is being listened to and that their hesitancy is well appreciated. Communication is effective when the message being communicated registers in the mind of the person intended, leaving no room for misunderstanding or questions. Communication skills training is now internationally accepted as an essential component of medical education. Meghalaya’s Health Department needs to expose its human resource to these essential soft skills.

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