Why Talking Is Not Cheap: Adverse Events and Informal Communication

Anthony Montgomery*, Olga Lainidi, Katerina Georganta

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Downloads (Pure)


Healthcare management faces significant challenges related to upward communication. Sharing information in healthcare is crucial to the improvement of person-centered, safe, and effective patient care. An adverse event (AE) is an unintended or unexpected incident that causes harm to a patient and may lead to temporary or permanent disability. Learning from adverse events in healthcare is crucial to the improvement of patient safety and quality of care. Informal communication channels represent an untapped resource with regard to gathering data about the development of AEs. In this viewpoint paper, we start by identifying how informal communication played a key factor in some high-profile adverse events. Then, we present three Critical Challenge points that examine the role of informal communication in adverse events by (1) understanding how the prevailing trends in healthcare will make informal communication more important, (2) explaining how informal communication is part of the group-level sensemaking process, and (3) highlighting the potential role of informal communication in “breaking the silence” around critical and adverse events. Gossip, as one of the most important sources of informal communication, was examined in depth. Delineating the role of informal communication and adverse events within the healthcare context is pivotal to understanding and improving team and upward communication in healthcare organizations. For clinical leaders, the challenge is to cultivate a climate of communication safety, whereby informal communication channels can be used to collect soft intelligence that are paths to improving the quality of care and patient safety.
Original languageEnglish
Article number635
Number of pages13
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 12 Mar 2024

Cite this