Communication boards in critical care: patients’ views (summary)

Communication boards


Communication difficulties have been reported as a very significant problem for patients on mechanical ventilation in hospital, leading to increased levels of stress and anxiety related to difficulty in getting needs met or having communication attempts misunderstood. Some of the methods used by healthcare workers to overcome these problems have been found to be tiring and emotionally draining. The use of communication boards has been suggested as a possible solution to this but there has been little research into what content would be most beneficial on the boards.

This study aimed to look at patients' perceptions of: their levels of frustration when trying to communicate when ventilated, their level of frustration if a communication board had been used and appropriate form and content for a communication board to be used in this situation.

What did the authors do?

29 patients who had been ventilated for a minimum of 18 hours were interviewed using a series of questions related to the research aims. The interviews were analysed into themes.

What did they find?

Over 60% of the patients reported high levels of frustration due to their inability to communicate effectively when being ventilated. A large majority believed that having a communication board would have reduced their level of frustration and been helpful.

The patients were also asked to look at a pre-prepared communication board and to consider how it would have worked, or not, for them. They had both positive and negative comments and suggestions to improve, or change, the board.

It was particularly felt that seeing the board prior to their surgery, in order to be familiar with it before it was needed, would have been beneficial.


Further research is needed to evaluate the use of pre-printed communication boards and other AAC supports with patients in critical care. It would be beneficial to look at the experiences of families and nurses in using communication boards.


The use of communication boards might be effective in supporting communication and decreasing frustration for patients on ventilators, increasing the efficiency and speed of communication, enabling needs to be met and helping staff to recognise patients individuality.

Things you may want to look into:

SPEACS-2: Intensive Care Unit 'Communication Rounds' with Speech Language Pathology

Nurses' perceptions of communication training in the ICU

A systematic review of the effectiveness of nurse communication with patients with complex communication needs with a focus on the use of augmentative and alternative communication

Use of augmentative and alternative communication strategies by family members in the intensive care unit

Added to site October 2014