Fast healthcare: Brief communication, traps and opportunities




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Resource considerations have meant that brevity in health care interventions is a high priority, and have led to a constant striving after ever more impressive time efficiency. The UK's National Health Service may be described as a kind of ‘fast healthcare’, where everyone is task busy, time is money, bed spaces are frenetically shuffled so as to accommodate the most needy and there appears to be ‘no time to talk’. Indeed, a great many health care encounters are taking place in short ‘blips’ often of 5 min or less across a range of sites and involving a vast number of practitioners. In this paper we explore how brief communication can both alienate and be therapeutic for patients. We theorise brief interactions by considering a number of traditions of work in anthropology, linguistics and sociology and conclude that health care providers need to invest much more in the skills and strategies for how best to communicate briefly if it to retain its core tradition of caring for others.


“NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Patient Education and Counseling. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Patient Education and Counseling Volume 82, Issue 1, January 2011, Pages 3-10


phatic communication, health care, brief communication, blip culture, pragmatics


Crawford, P. and Brown, B., (2011) Fast Healthcare: Traps and opportunities. Patient Education and Counseling 82, (1) pp. 3-10.


Research Institute

Institute of Health, Health Policy and Social Care
Mary Seacole Research Centre