Communicating Neurocritical Illness: The Anatomy of Misunderstanding

By Eelco F. M. Wijdicks

First Online: 27 October 2020

We talk, text, email all day. Do we perceive things correctly? Do we need to improve the way we communicate? It is a truism that providing insufficient information about a patient results in delays and errors in management. How can we best communicate urgent triage or urgent changes in the patient condition? There is no substitute for a face-to-face conversation but what would the receiving end want to know? One starting point for those practicing acute neurology and neurocritical care is a new mnemonic TELL ME (Time course, Essence, Laboratory, Life-sustaining interventions, Management, Expectation), which will assist physicians in standardizing their communication skills before they start a conversation or pick up a phone. These include knowing the time course (new and "out of the blue" or ongoing for some time); extracting the essentials (eliminating all irrelevancies); communicating what tests are known and pending (computerized tomography and laboratory); relaying how much critical support will be needed (secretion burden, intubation, vasopressors); knowing fully which emergency drugs have been administered (e.g., mannitol, antiepileptics, tranexamic acid), when transport is anticipated, and what can be expected in the following hours. Perfect orchestration in communication may be too much to ask, but we neurointensivists strive to convey information accurately and completely. Communication must be taught, learned, and practiced. This article provides guiding principles for a number of scenarios involving communication inside and outside the hospital.

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