Heather J. Carmack, PhD

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Communication and Patient Safety

My first love is communicating about patient safety. Grounded in a personal loss as the result of a medical error, I am drawn to understand how different stakeholders talk about medical errors...or in many cases, don't talk about it.  Providers and administrators are more likely to frame these discussions in the positive, talking about "cultures of patient safety" and initiatives designed to improve patient care.  We need to talk about the positives, negatives, and how these conversations impact health policy and procedures. 


Current projects include analysis of patient safety health campaigns, perceptions of medical error risk, and a large, multi-year project examining patient and partner emotional support during medical error disclosure and recovery. 

Communication and Death Studies

I do like the dark side of health communication, but that may not come to a surprise to my students and colleagues. We need to talk about these issues, especially communication about dying and death. My love of death studies was piqued thanks to a wonderful class on death and dying I took in graduate school. One elective changed my life! Now, I work on a variety of communication and death studies research projects, primarily with my communication death studies research partner, Dr. Jocelyn DeGroot (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville).

We are currently working on a number of projects, including research involving our Communication Apprehension about Death (CADS) scale. 

Difficult and Mundane Patient-Provider Communication Interactions

My love of patient safety is the driving force for my newest line of research: standardized patient research and provider training. I am the director of the Standardized Patient Communication Lab, which is dedicated to studying difficult and mundane conversations between patients and providers in order to find ways to improve these interactions. The SPCL brings together pre-med and public health undergraduate students and health communication graduate students to study a variety of communication events. 


We are currently working on a number of projects, including connecting standardized patient practices and imagined interactions and a multi-year project about doorknob disclosures.