Communicating for Diagnostic Excellence

Communicating for Diagnostic Excellence

Diagnostic errors are a common patient safety blindspot and often involve communication breakdowns. Uncertainty is ubiquitous in the diagnostic process. Clear, accurate and open communication is the linchpin to ensure correct, timely and safe care.

ICH's Research Fellow, Dr Mary Dahm, in collaboration with Dr Carmel Crock (Director Emergency Department, Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, Melbourne), is conducting a program of research to show how language and communication can become powerful tools for diagnostic excellence. In 2020, her talk The Diagnostic Statement: Linguistic Analysis of how Clinicians Communicate Diagnosis was included in the Best of The Best Oral Abstract at the annual US conference for the Society to Improve Diagnostic Error in Medicine.

Mary presented her innovative vision in a keynote address entitled Tales of Give and Take. Communication and the Diagnostic Odyssey which has been called "the highlight" of the 2nd Australasian Diagnostic Error in Medicine Conference, Melbourne (2019).

Mary's program of work on diagnostic communication involves a systematic review, and linguistic analysis of diagnostic statements and expression of diagnostic uncertainty in clinician-patient interactions. Mary and Carmel are currently developing plans for ethnographic studies of diagnostic talk in handovers and medical records and the implementation of quality improvement interventions such as diagnostic checkpoints in Emergency Departments.

Working in collaboration with a team of clinicians and health consumer representative, Mary is currently conducting a systematic review to identify how diagnostic uncertainty communicated in primary care and how uncertainty impacts on patient experience.


Systematic Review team:

  • Dr Maria Dahm (Research Fellow at the Institute for Communication in Health Care)
  • Dr Carmel Crock (Director Emergency Department, Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, Melbourne)
  • Dr Kelly Gleason (Assistant Professor Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, USA)
  • William Cattanach (ANU Medical student)
  • Maureen Williams (Patient advocate)
  • Dr Jocelyne Basseal (Microbiologist, Infection Prevention & Control researcher and consultant)



Updated:  6 April 2021/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications