Ask anyone about a memorable experience they had as a patient and they will invariably describe an interpersonal one:

“The team was nasty. They rolled their eyes when I asked for anything, talked about their vacations while putting in my IV as if I wasn’t there and in pain, and chatted loudly near my room at all hours of the night.”

“My nurses were the best. They always gave a report to each other in front of me, including me in the plan, they checked on me often, and patiently answered my questions.”

In both of these examples, the concern of the patient is less about the skill level with which the injury or disease was managed, but rather the care team’s ability to communicate effectively and considerately with the patient. Furthermore, evidence suggests patients who have a good rapport with clinicians do better overall. And it doesn’t end with the patient. Effective communication among members of the care team is just as essential to the patient’s well-being as direct interaction with the patient themselves.

Communication and Outcomes

A fundamental feature of quality patient care is bedside manner. Although this implies the inpatient setting, it includes all interpersonal engagement with patients. Practicing empathy and establishing trust are two benefits of effective communication that not only makes the experience more pleasant for the patient and the team, but also it improves clinical outcomes.

It’s not difficult to understand why. A patient with less stress is physiologically better off. A patient who trusts their providers may be more candid about sensitive and pertinent health history information, such as recreational drug use and sexual behaviors. Similarly, a transparent interprofessional care team may be more willing to admit mistakes or ask questions without fear of ridicule.

Guidelines for Effective Communication

Although the specialized skills of all clinical professionals are essential, the importance of effective communication with and about the patient cannot be overlooked. Consider the following guidelines for effective communication:

  • Greet patients and colleagues.
  • Inform the patient before touching them or undertaking tasks.
  • When in doubt, ask.
  • Reserve casual conversation for breaks and non-clinical areas.
  • Act with integrity: treat patients as if their loved ones are around.

Such simple considerations can have a tremendous impact on the patient encounter, in addition to making it a more pleasant and fulfilling experience for everyone.

Nancy Swezey, BSN, RN, CNOR

Nancy Swezey received her BSN from Columbia University. She now practices in New York City in the operating room where she has worked as a staff nurse, and currently as a care coordinator specializing in head and neck surgery. Nancy is also pursuing her advanced practice degree at CUNY Hunter where she assists the faculty as a research assistant, focusing on nurse education and module development.

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