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Communication in Nursing

In all levels of healthcare a key component to appropriate best practice treatment for patients is excellent communication standards. As nurses are the primary point of care for the vast majority of a patient’s experience in the healthcare system, clear and thorough communication is critical to ensure the proper care and treatment is given. Without clear, professional and coherent communication the patient not only will have a less than adequate healthcare experience, there is a very real risk of danger to the patient. The attitude, tone and non-verbal levels of communication are also a key as they can lead to miscommunications and conflict where a simple adjustment would make things more clear, professional and empathic. In addition to communication within the ranks of the health care staff, there is also the need for top shelf communication skills when communicating with patients and their family.

When you are working with your fellow nursing staff as well as other healthcare professionals communication is at a premium. When you are using written communication it is important to be accurate and thorough. The same is usually true during verbal communication, but it is important at times to be concise when time is a factor. Overall the single most important part of communication is accuracy. When a patient’s comfort and even life can be on the line based on correct communication, it is critical that you have maximum accuracy in every form of communication.

When you are communicating with fellow healthcare professionals, patients and family it is important to be sure that you are using the appropriate tone and presenting a professional attitude. This applies to non-verbal communication as well as verbal. Having a slouched posture, vacant unfocused gaze or other signals that show that you don’t really care about what is being communicated you can create misunderstandings. When your non-verbal cues and attitude show you aren’t interested your fellow professionals might not trust the data you’re relaying and will waste precious time double checking your findings. If you show that you don’t care to the patient or family they might take offense. If a professional or patient thinks you are being hostile based on tone a frown, a glare or other non-verbal cue that you are angry, you can end up spending time dealing with emerging hostilities and hurt feelings. You may also cause additional stress in a patient or co-worker that could lead to that patient or other patients suffering a delayed healing period and other discomforts and difficulties. It is a key therefore, to always moderate your tone and to maintain professionalism when conveying information both verbally and through non-verbal communication.

At times you will be called upon to deal with co-workers or patients and their families who are under a lot of stress and are having an emotional outburst. When dealing with a co-worker the key is to remain calm and to gently suggest they take a moment to become calm and ask if you can help them in any way by letting them debrief or otherwise assist them. Calming a co-worker is well worth the few moments of time you might spend calming them. Likewise when dealing with a patient or family member who is angry you want to match their intensity with a soft calmness and cool collected, but not detached attitude. Let them know they are heard, ask them what is bothering them and what you can do to help. Show that you are on their side and want a best outcome for the patient. By doing this you will be able to calm most family members and if not you have at least comported yourself in a professional manner which reflects well on yourself and your organization.

Regardless of the situation the keys to remember in communication in nursing are accuracy and professionalism. Accuracy is the clear conveyance of medical findings, interventions and procedures performed, medication given and other fact based information about a patient’s medical treatment. Professionalism is the ability to communicate in a cool, calm and collected manner even in the face of your own personal challenges and even emergent hostility from co-workers, patients or family.

You can read the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s study on Difficult Communication in Nursing here.