A new Canberra-led international coalition will help to prevent avoidable critical incidents and patient injury in hospitals caused by communications breakdown.
The International Consortium for Communication in Health will combine research from a number of leading universities from around the world to help improve patient safety.
It's estimated communication breakdowns - either between patients and staff or between fellow doctors - leads to 450,000 people suffering avoidable incidents while in hospital.
The research group is being led by the Australian National University, and also includes University College London, the University of Hong Kong, the Queensland University of Technology, with Harvard University set to join later this year.
Consortium member Professor Diana Slade, who is part of the ANU's Institute for Communication in Health Care, said it was hoped the research could lead to safer outcomes for patients.
"If you get a misunderstanding on top of a misunderstanding between people in a hospital that can lead to a critical incident and that can lead to something small or may result in death," Professor Slade said.
"Most of our experience of healthcare comes through language, and so much of what goes wrong is through the communications process, and effective communication is essential for safe and quality patient care."
As part of the research in Australia, which has been conducted at hospitals including Canberra Hospital and St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney, linguists helped to monitor medical situations as they unfolded.
Professor Slade it was critical to watch events as they happened to locate where some of the key communication breakdowns happened in critical situations.
"The recordings are transcribed verbatim, de-identified and analysed to see where the potential risk points are and how these misalignments can accumulate across a patient's journey and contribute to a serious adverse event," she said.
"By analysing these interactions, it allows us to identify the potential risks across the patient's journey."
Among some of the most common communication breakdowns identified in the research was misunderstandings between patients and medical staffs, illegible patient records or confusions during the handover process on hospital wards.
In the midst of a padndemic when reliance on the healthcare system has increased, Professor Slade said COVID-19 had brought its own challenges.
"The use of PPE is essential to limit infections but it has created significant barriers to communications," she said.
"Often patients can't identify who is talking to them or read their facial expressions, and clinicians find themselves hard to hear.
"Interpersonal communication is essential to alleviate anxiety and develop rapport with patients."
The consortium is being formally launched at ANU on Wednesday, where research on the pandemic will be presented.