Communication in nursing is essential to patient safety, health and well-being. Because nurses are at the center of patient care, it is their responsibility to facilitate dialog. As nurses assume more complex roles and care for older and more culturally diverse populations, they will need to strengthen their communication skills.
Why Communication in Nursing Is Important
Without effective communication skills, serious errors that may cost patients their lives can occur. According to STAT, poor communication was a factor in 1,744 deaths of malpractice cases that CRICO Strategies, a patient safety organization, examined over a five-year period. In one case, a nurse failed to tell a surgeon about the patient’s abdominal pain and drop in level of red blood cells after surgery; the error resulted in the patient’s death. Another report by The Joint Commission showed that miscommunication during patient transfers contributed to 80 percent of serious errors.
Good communication skills are no longer just for patients but also fellow health professionals. The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health report calls for nurses to become a key part of healthcare system redesign. The report recommends they work as full collaborators with other healthcare professionals. Nurses are advising healthcare policy-makers, designing information technology, acting as leaders and solving problems. Success in each of these areas largely depends on communicating with others.
Important Communication Skills for Nurses
The following are simple guidelines nurses can follow to improve their communications skills.
Every person has a preferred method of communicating, whether in-person, by phone or via the internet. Health Professions Education: A Bridge to Quality recommends that clinicians communicate using their patient’s favorite mode of communication, which is central to patient-centered care.
Learn to Listen
Speaking and writing are only part of communicating — listening is equally essential. By not listening properly, it is easy to miss important patient information. Listening errors are often the results of multitasking. NurseTogether.com suggests that when nurses feel their concentration slipping, they should stop and refocus. Mindfulness is one technique people use to stay in the moment and improve their listening skills.
Do Not Make Assumptions
Assuming a patient knows what you mean can result in costly errors. TravelNursing.com suggests confirming that patients understand your directions. Nurses can ask patients to repeat instructions, which can reveal any misunderstandings or gaps in information.
Understand Cultural Differences
The United States Census Bureau estimates that the nation will become markedly more ethnically and racially diverse by 2060. Understanding and communicating with people from diverse backgrounds will be essential to providing effective patient care.
Read Body Language
Your demeanor, attitude and posture can affect a patient’s perception. For example, the Houston Chronicle says a nurse who looks at the time or makes little eye contact when talking may indicate a lack of interest.
Strengthen Writing Skills
Communication includes writing as well as speaking. Depending on your role or specialty, you may be responsible for a lot of writing.
Courses offered in the online RN to BSN program at the University of Texas at Arlington give students opportunities to develop their writing skills. In Critical Thinking, Reading, & Writing I (ENGL 1301), for example, students write analytical essays based on what they have read.
Communicating effectively with patients, other healthcare providers and stakeholders is a basic nursing competency. As nursing becomes more complex, nurses will need to strengthen their communication skills. Communication in nursing is imperative for optimal patient care and preventing errors, and it will become even more essential as nursing roles continue to expand.
Learn more about the UT Arlington online RN to BSN program.
Stat News: Bailey, M. (2016, February 1). Communication failures linked to 1,744 patient deaths in five years.
CRICO (n.d.): Comparative Benchmarking System (CBS) Reports
The National Academies Press: (2011): In The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health.
Health Professions Education: A Bridge to Quality. In National Academies Press. (2003).
Nursetogether.com: Budzban, A. (2011, July 12). The Importance of Active Listening in Nursing.
Travelnursing.com: Kirschke, M. M. (2011). Avoiding Nurses’ Biggest Communication Mistakes.
U.S. Census Bureau Projections Show a Slower Growing, Older, More Diverse Nation a Half Century from Now [Press release]. (2012, December 12).
Houston Chronicle: Williams, E. (n.d.). What Is Effective Communication in Nursing?
Have a question or concern about this article? Please contact us.