Effective communication is one of the foundations of good nursing care. The honest forms of nurse-patient communication include verbal and non-verbal communication (e.g., body language, facial expression, gestures, and distance between you and your patients). Effective nurse-patient communication can improve quality of care, clinical outcomes, and a nurse-patient relationship that enhances patient satisfaction. However, effective nurse-patient communication is the biggest challenge for nurses and requires much more than experience and skills.

Here are 3 principles you should follow to help you improve your communication skills with patients.

1. Always put the patients first.

Putting patients first takes a shift of mind. Start your conversation with the patients by taking the time to introduce yourself and tell them how you are going to take care of them. Smile and use a calm and welcoming voice. Provide comfort when they need to be comforted. Always show respect to your patients. Understanding who the patients are as individuals will help the nurse connect with them and will make the patients feel more comfortable while receiving care and treatment. These approaches can make the patients feel really cared for and can improve relationships.

2. Practice active listening.

Active listening is an important part of communication and requires listening for the content, intent, and feeling of the speaker. Active listening involves paying attention to what the patients say and allowing them to finish without judgement and interruption. Paraphrasing or echoing back to them what they have just said, and maintaining eye contact are also key elements of active listening. Lastly, pay attention to their non-verbal clues, such as facial expression, gestures, and eye contact. These skills can improve patient satisfaction and build trust over time.

3. Talk with heart.

Communicating with patients requires ample time. Honesty and frankness are important parts of effective communication between nurses and patients. To achieve effective nurse-patient communication, nurses need to have a sincere intention to understand what concerns their patients have and show them their kindness and courtesy. Acknowledge the patients’ attitudes and tune into their feelings. Always ask patients open-ended questions, speak slowly, and use simpler, non-medical language. If the patient has difficulty understanding the information, you need to clarify or modify the information or instructions until the patient gets it. You may consider using written materials such as handouts, notes, or pictures to demonstrate what you are saying.

Nuananong Seal & Mary Wiske

Nuananong Seal, PhD, RN, is a nurse researcher and a consultant for health promotion and health prevention research.

Mary Wiske, RN, is a retired community health nurse.

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