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Communication barriers that affect medication adherence in patients with learning disabilities

02 December 2021
11 min read
Volume 32 · Issue 12


Communication formulates a large part of a consultation and as a practitioner, it is vital to communicate effectively with a patient. Jamara Hignett provides an overview of the communication barriers that affect medication adherence in patients with learning disabilities

Having a disability that affects communication can cause particular problems in primary care as inadequate communication can lead to the wrong diagnosis, poor assessments and inadequate health care (Murphy, 2006). All patients are entitled to accessible and appropriate information on prescribed medication to facilitate a deeper understanding of the benefits and harms of treatment (Grime et al, 2007). Reasonable adjustments should be made for learning difficultly patients and this can be in the form of easy reads guides that incorporate larger text, simple information and pictorial explanations. Communication passports are a tool used by people with learning disabilities; these provide both a practical and person-centred approach to passing on key information about people with complex communication difficulties (Nursing Times, 2018). They provide information about the communication needs and health needs of a patient which is useful to assist in bridging the communication gap between nurse practitioner and patient. In a time of technological advancements, a move towards digital passports would be more beneficial with regular updates from the multidisciplinary team. This in turn can be shared across numerous health platforms the patient might come into contact with, allowing the nurse practitioner to better prepare for the patient prior to their consultation. Education on learning disabilities is an area of training that is lacking in general practice; there have been no provisions made to make the training mandatory. Incorporating mandatory yearly staff training will ensure nurse practitioners have the tools and knowledge to adapt communication techniques during a consultation.

This critically reflective discussion addresses two key issues, that arose from a consultation, that were identified as key barriers to medication adherence for patients with learning disabilities. This article will explore how communication plays a vital role during consultations and how medical or non-medical prescribers can reach a shared decision by using appropriate consultation styles targeted at patients with a communication learning disability. This article will look at the role the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) prescribing framework plays in guiding safe prescribing practices (RPS, 2016). It will focus on the consultation and how to reach a shared decision with a patient who has a learning disability where communication is a barrier. The process of the Rolfe et al (2001) reflective model was applied to the consultation and utilised to assist with extracting emerging themes. The Rolfe et al (2001) reflective model helps practitioners to ensure safe and effective evidence-based care which assists continuous improvement (Bulman and Schutz, 2013). Reflecting upon past clinical experiences is an important competency for all practitioners to better develop a thorough understanding and enhance future patient consultations.

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