Effective communication of public health guidance to emergency department clinicians in the setting of emerging incidents: a qualitative study and framework Academic Article uri icon

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  • BACKGROUND: Evidence to inform communication between emergency department clinicians and public health agencies is limited. In the context of diverse, emerging public health incidents, communication is urgent, as emergency department clinicians must implement recommendations to protect themselves and the public. The objectives of this study were to: explore current practices, barriers and facilitators at the local level for communicating public health guidance to emergency department clinicians in emerging public health incidents; and develop a framework that promotes effective communication of public health guidance to clinicians during emerging incidents. METHODS: A qualitative study was conducted using semi-structured interviews with 26 key informants from emergency departments and public health agencies in Ontario, Canada. Data were analyzed inductively and the analytic approach was guided by concepts of complexity theory. RESULTS: Emergent themes corresponded to challenges and strategies for effective communication of public health guidance. Important challenges related to the coordination of communication across institutions and jurisdictions, and differences in work environments across sectors. Strategies for effective communication were identified as the development of partnerships and collaboration, attention to specific methods of communication used, and the importance of roles and relationship-building prior to an emerging public health incident. Following descriptive analysis, a framework was developed that consists of the following elements: 1) Anticipate; 2) Invest in building relationships and networks; 3) Establish liaison roles and redundancy; 4) Active communication; 5) Consider and respond to the target audience; 6) Leverage networks for coordination; and 7) Acknowledge and address uncertainty. The qualities inherent in local relationships cut across framework elements. CONCLUSIONS: This research indicates that relationships are central to effective communication between public health agencies and emergency department clinicians at the local level. Our framework which is grounded in qualitative evidence focuses on strategies to promote effective communication in the emerging public health incident setting and may be useful in informing practice.


  • Khan, Yasmin
  • Sanford, Sarah
  • Sider, Douglas
  • Moore, Kieran
  • Garber, Gary
  • de Villa, Eileen
  • Schwartz, Brian

publication date

  • December 2017