Improving Nurse-Patient Communication

Good communication between healthcare professionals and their patients helps ensure better health outcomes, shortens lengths of stay, prevents or reduces the chance of readmission, and pre-empts treatment delays or incorrect medication administration.

What Are the Implications of Miscommunication or Poor Communication?

Nurses act as the liaison between patients and other providers, such as primary care physicians, specialists and surgeons. It’s their job to perform initial health assessments, including analyzing and recording vitals.

However, there’s more to nurse-patient interactions than “data.” Sometimes patients are reluctant to share details, and nurses must extract clues that may influence their care. There’s also the matter of legality. Miscommunication may influence informed consent, which could lead to eventual malpractice lawsuits, many of them costly.

In the information age, a single scathing review from a patient can wreck a healthcare organization’s reputation.

5 Ways to Perfect Your Communication Skills

Registered nurses (RNs) in particular can improve their communication in the following ways.

1) Intertwine non-verbal communication and active listening.

Maintaining eye contact, smiling or just leaning in to listen can boost a patient’s trust, which helps prevent gaps in communication. Make sure you’re not buried in the patient’s chart; respond to what they’re saying as they’re saying it so they know you’re invested.

Posture is also important. Crossing one’s arms can be interpreted as disinterest or aggressiveness.

2) Practice kindness and empathy, but don’t overstep or overpromise.

Patients are vulnerable. Even if it’s just a routine checkup, the environment can be unfamiliar. It’s acceptable, and often welcome, for nurses to show kindness and empathy. However, it’s crucial to maintain boundaries. You are not their new best friend; you are a medical professional providing care.

You should also be aware of what you’re relaying to the patient and think twice about the promises you make.

3) Respect patients’ fears and treat them with dignity.

You may have seen a hundred broken arms or worked with countless cancer patients, but it may be your patient’s first experience in the ER or hospital, which can be frightening. That doesn’t mean you should treat them like a child. Every patient deserves to receive pertinent information professionally and to be treated with dignity.

4) Balance medical jargon with everyday language.

Inadvertently using medical jargon while explaining things to patients is understandable. But your patients are probably unfamiliar with such terminology. Offering information in language that’s easy to understand without talking down to patients is a balancing act. Helping patients and their family members fully grasp disease processes, medication instructions and self-care techniques can go a long way toward improving patient outcomes.

5) Understand the challenges of cultural differences or language barriers.

The cultural diversity in the United States highlights the need for nurses to expand their awareness of other cultures and ways of communication. U.S. Census Bureau data for 2018 shows that approximately 21% of the U.S. population speaks a language other than English at home.

Even if nurses practice in a geographic location with little diversity, they can still learn about various cultural customs. This awareness will go a long way in ensuring effective nurse-patient communication should they find themselves in unfamiliar settings.

With Good Communication, Everyone Wins

It should come as no surprise that good communication correlates with patient satisfaction. A study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) indicates that increasing patient satisfaction “reduces the risk of malpractice lawsuits, increases the profitability of hospitals in the competitive market, increases patient involvement in their own treatment, and has a better chance of improving their health condition.”

For patients, nurses and the healthcare organizations where they convene, good communication is simply a win-win scenario.

Learn more about UL Lafayette’s online RN to BSN program.


Grant Law Office: Miscommunication, the Leading Cause of Medical Malpractice?

MedPB: How to Respond to Negative Patient Reviews Online 10 Essential Nurse Communication Skills for Success

National Center for Biotechnology Information: Assessment of Nurse–Patient Communication and Patient Satisfaction From Nursing Care

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