Researching communication

I use video recordings to analyse in detail how health care professionals communicate with each other as they engage in clinical team work. In recent years I’ve worked closely with clinical research partners on projects funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council exploring communication in the operating theatre. We did field work in the operating theatres of a major London hospital, and analysed video recordings made with in-built and hand-held cameras and a wireless microphone worn by one of the surgeons.

Video recording has some important advantages over observational methods based on on-the-spot note taking and/or performance rating along global rating scales: video can be replayed over and over again, it can be watched by different analysts, and it can be played in slow motion, enabling scrutiny of the most fine grain details of communicative acts.

Central to my approach to analysing  video recordings is multimodal transcription, i.e. systematically annotating speech, gesture, body posture, gaze and other means of communication using specialist software. Transcription is a way of making explicit and rendering visible exactly how communication unfolded in actual, concrete situations.

As well as video recordings I draw on a range of other data sources, so as to understand the setting in which communication happens.

Following this analytical procedure, I have explored a range of themes related to inter-professional communication:

  • The effects of mobility of staff and ‘transience’ of teams on communication
  • The coordination of practical tasks, such as the passing of instruments
  • The ways in which surgeons articulate and negotiate clinical reasoning decision making during operations
  • Work-place based teaching and learning
  • The effect of music on communication and team work