Nursing Communication Techniques for Difficult Patients


nursing communication skills

By Alana Luna, Contributor

While dealing with difficult patients in nursing has an obvious short-term effect, the ripples from misunderstandings caused by a lack of nursing communication skills can have far-reaching consequences. According to the CRICO Strategies 2015 Malpractice Risks in Communications report, healthcare miscommunication cost the United States 2,000 lives and some $1.7 billion between 2009 and 2013. By improving their communication techniques, nurses can help ease patient worry and improve overall care while protecting their employer’s bottom line. 

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Nursing communication skills: why questions matter

As experts, nurses can easily fall into a habit of offering information without leaving room for patients and their loved ones to use their own voice and express questions or concerns. Susan A. Leys, an RN coach, recommends asking open-ended questions —those questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no —to gauge patient understanding. “An example would be to say to them, ‘tell me what the questions are that you have for me.’”

Employ empathy

An endless onslaught of high-level medical terms is confusing at best and often causes anxiety. Leys suggests incorporating empathetic language such as, “I know we are providing you with a lot of information which may be difficult for you to hear, how do you feel about what we have told you so far?” One study on empathy and nursing care outcomes found that cancer patients whose nurses were trained in empathy demonstrated significantly less anxiety and hostility.

Value patient input

Nancy Michaels is a communications expert and business development advisor who encourages nurses to let patients and their families be a part of the decision-making process. “[They] want to be given options and made to feel that their input is important to the process of healing or treating their illness.”By empowering patients to participate in planning their care, medical professionals gain an important ally and help patients feel more confident in their treatment and prognosis.

Keep touching base

Superior nursing communication techniques are essential, but they only work if they’re used on a consistent basis. Michaels stresses the need for patients to “experience respect, compassion and adequate communication throughout their illness –from intake to discharge.Ongoing, even repetitive conversations can help patients and family members retain information and not feel rushed, dismissed or uncared for.”There are many formal ways to advance your nursing career, but one of the strongest ways to grow professionally is to work on your nursing communication skills. When dealing with difficult patients threatens to derail your day —and their care —take a deep breath and utilize the expert tips above. You may literally save a life.

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