The importance of effective communication in health, nursing, & patient outcomes
Communication skills are essential in all professions—in all aspects of life, really—but are especially vital for nurses and healthcare professionals. Patient safety, patient satisfaction, and positive patient outcomes all depend on effective communication.
The best nurses learn, develop, and refine the communication skills necessary to perform at top-of-license—and to form genuine and meaningful relationships with patients, coworkers, and other health professionals. These nurse communication skills include:
- Eye contact.
- Proper body language & non-verbal communication skills.
- Addressing patient worries.
- Active listening.
- Showing the patient understanding & empathy.
- Patient education & clinical expertise.
- Addressing specific patient preferences.
- Encouraging patients.
- Protecting patient confidentiality.
Outstanding interpersonal communication improves the patient experience, increases patient satisfaction, & enhances patient health
Mastering nurse communication skills requires devotion, discipline, and a deep understanding of health literacy. Healthcare facilities are chaotic, stressful, and unpredictable places swirling with competing priorities, personalities, and problems. Life-and-death decisions must be made in the blink of an eye. Nurses need the ability to remain composed and capable in such an environment, for the sake of both patients and coworkers.
Strong interpersonal skills often come naturally to nurses, most of whom got into the profession because they love helping people. But even the most gifted communicators must hone their skills—and must be willing to learn new techniques—to achieve the best possible patient care.
Nurses who spend more time listening to and learning about patients tend to have more confidence to deal with issues as they arise. Poor communication in healthcare settings causes an array of problems, from inadequate care to faulty treatment plans to poor patient outcomes.
Job satisfaction also plummets for nurses who can't communicate effectively. They get frustrated, angry, and burnt-out—and sometimes leave the profession altogether.
By contrast, strong interpersonal communication skills boost job satisfaction, improve patient care/the patient experience, and increase the chance of positive health outcomes. Healthcare organizations that build strong nurse-patient communication systems receive higher patient satisfaction scores. Patient satisfaction scores are often a direct result of a therapeutic nurse-patient relationship.
5 crucial skills for effective communication and relationship building in nursing
Good communication begins with the intention of understanding the patient's feelings and experiences—sometimes referred to as active listening. An active listener tries to truly hear what is being said. Active listening is the responsibility of the nurse.
Active listeners exude empathy—true empathy—for the patient's concerns. They use encouraging and comforting verbal and nonverbal language and gestures, and they always maintain a calm and reassuring demeanor.
Let's take a deeper look at 5 essential interpersonal skills for nurses. These patient communication techniques enhance medical care, improve patient satisfaction, and reduce medical errors—which combined have enormous benefits for any healthcare organization or healthcare provider.
#1: Patient education (Patient Teach-Back)
Nurses are often the first caregivers who speak to patients. Information obtained by nurses is then shared with doctors and other clinicians in the continuum of care. The characteristics of a nurse's job vary by environment/healthcare system—intensive care unit, physician's office, nursing home, emergency room, etc.—but nurses are usually responsible for educating patients about medical conditions, the treatment plan, medications, and follow-up care.
One proven patient education method—a technique that ensures patients absorb and internalize essential information—is Patient Teach-Back: The nurse asks the patient to repeat the essential information back to the nurse. This way, the patient conveys, through their own words, that they understand their treatment plan.
Nurses should stay up to date on the latest healthcare research. This allows them to give the most relevant possible educational information to patients, which can prevent patient harm.
Patient education is an essential component of good communication in nursing. The more the patient knows, the more engaged they will be in their care, and the healthier they will be. Effectively communicating proper health information is critical to ensure patient safety.
#2: Compassion & verbal communication
Compassion and empathy define nurses. These virtues are the reason that, year-after-year, nurses are voted the #1 most trusted profession in the world. Compassion and empathy relieve anxiety for patients, who are at their most vulnerable when they are ill. A positive patient experience is often a direct result of a nurse's kindness.
To communicate with comfort, compassion, and empathy, nurses must:
- Make eye contact.
- Reassure & encourage patients.
- Identify patient worries & attempt to alleviate these worries.
- Convey understanding for the patient's situation.Compassion can save lives. It is a non-negotiable component of good communication skills.
#3: Cultural awareness
The patient's background sometimes needs to be considered to ensure effective communication and clinical strategies. A variety of factors—nationality, religion, language, race, gender—can influence interactions. To ensure a quality care encounter, the nurse needs take these characteristics into account when communicating with patients.
Nurses should learn as much as they can about the patient's background, whether from electronic health records or the patient's primary healthcare provider, in order to establish trust with the patient. Trust is the key ingredient to effective communication in nursing.
#4: Written communication
Written nurse communication is also an important component of the nursing practice. Strong written communication is especially crucial to communicating effectively with coworkers and other healthcare providers—and to ensuring patient safety.
Nurse's are responsible for creating and modifying patient health records. It's critical that these medical records are accurate and understandable so that patients are protected. Patient and nursing education also depends on clear, concise, and correct written information.
Written nurse’s notes and call recordings are part of the official medical record, which means they are legal documents.
#5: Nonverbal nurse communication
For nurses to communicate effectively, excellent nonverbal communication techniques—facial expressions, gestures, movements—are also imperative.
Nurses should maintain a calm and comforting demeanor. They should smile (when appropriate), and move deliberately and confidently, which relaxes and reassures the patient.
Because nurses are constantly in movement performing a variety of tasks, nonverbal communication is essential to effective communication in nursing. Confident and positive body language makes the patient feel safe and improves patient health.
Technology & the future of communication in nursing
Mastering the verbal, nonverbal, and written communication skills described above will ensure that nearly every encounter ends in a positive patient interaction.
Nurses and healthcare providers should also keep in mind that communication in nursing—and communication in all health professions—is rapidly changing thanks to automated technology. There now exists sophisticated triage and decision support software, which uses Artificial Intelligence to automate many of the communications and branching steps traditionally carried out by nurses.
This software is changing the face of communication in nursing. It streamlines workflows, which allows nurses to focus solely on patient care, leading to better patient outcomes. For an in-depth look at how technology is affecting communication in nursing, check out my blog: "Nurse Triage & Telehealth Technology: A Symbiotic Relationship."