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Effective Patient Communication and Better Outcomes

As the healthcare industry undergoes seemingly constant change, there is one constant that doesn’t change.  The role the nurse plays in patient satisfaction and being the face of caring is something that will never change.  Nurses spend the most time with

As the healthcare industry undergoes seemingly constant change, there is one constant that doesn’t change.  The role the nurse plays in patient satisfaction and being the face of caring is something that will never change.  Nurses spend the most time with patients and upon discharge, the care they received from the nurse, more than anyone else they’ve encountered, will be what they remember the most.  Accepting that role in establishing rapport and good communication with the patient is something that is taught from the earliest days of nursing school. We’ve discussed this topic in the past and feel that because of its importance, the time has arrived to revisit the concepts of effective nurse-patient communication.

Effective communication is comprised of much more than just what you say to a patient.  Communication is a process of engagement that includes verbal communication between the nurse and patient, but it is also non-verbal communication, body language, effective listening, the building of rapport and trust.  Let’s look at what makes effective communication and how that leads to better outcomes and patient satisfaction.

Don’t discount the value of a first impression.  We’ve all heard the saying “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.”  This truism is especially important for nursing professionals because that first impression will have a profound impact on how your patient feels about you and whether or not they will trust you and comply with your directives.  So how can you ensure a good first impression? There are a few keys to your first interaction with a patient: Maintain eye contact, smile, speak clearly, and demonstrate good listening techniques.  No matter how busy you are, it is important that your first interaction with a patient is calm and that you are not rushed. Putting them at ease with a smile and looking them in their eyes shows that you are giving them your full attention.  Lastly, ALWAYS use the patient's name to avoid them feeling as if the interaction is impersonal and they are just another number.

Building on that first impression.  So, you made a conscious effort to establish a good rapport with your patient right off the bat.  You smiled and maintained eye contact, used their name and made sure they understood what you were telling them.  As your shift goes on, you might be getting fatigued, and there is a bit of chaos creeping into your ward.  These are the conditions that can completely eliminate the positive groundwork you’ve laid with a patient.  Each interaction you have with a patient can add another layer of positive rapport or can wipe out everything you’ve built from that first interaction.  When speaking with your patient, your body language and non-verbal cues play a critical role in how they are viewing you.  If you are standing next to them with a stern look on your face and crossed arms, you are sending them a negative message.  Stay with the eye contact and use a supportive tone of voice.  Plus, never sigh or roll your eyes no matter what kind of question they ask.  That is a sure way to shut them down and lose all cooperation that may have been developing.

Speak to your patients, not at them.  One mistake newer, less-confident nurses make is trying too hard to demonstrate their medical knowledge with patients.  While every patient wants a nurse who seems intelligent, that doesn’t mean they are comfortable with a lot of medical jargon getting thrown around that they can’t understand.  Demonstrate your skills in the way that you care for them.  Make an effort to speak to them in terms they can understand.  Sometimes that requires a nurse having to ask clarifying questions to ensure the patient understands what was explained.  When your patient feels like they understand what you are telling them, they feel more engaged in the process and are more satisfied with the quality of care they are receiving.

If there was a secret recipe for quality communication, it would have to be mastering the art of active listening. Everything we’ve discussed in this content is a component of active listening, defined as “the listener actively participating in the flow of communication through their actions, body language, and interactions with the speaker.”  An active listener reflects back the words of the speaker to clarify that they understand.  For example: “What I am hearing you say is…” or “If I am hearing you correctly, you are ….”

Another component of active listening is asking relevant questions based on what you are being told, rather than just spouting pre-planned or pre-conceived questions.  Framing questions in ways that use the words of the speaker demonstrates to them that you are hearing them and paying attention to what they are saying.

Communication between healthcare workers and the patient is playing a growing role as the industry undergoes changes driven by legislation, changing customer demands, and outcome based measurements.  Quality of care is driving new payment models, and a customer-centric focus relies heavily on the strength of the nurse-patient and doctor-patient interactions.

Share your thoughts on creating quality interactions and communication with patients in the comment section below, or join in the conversation on our Facebook page.