5 helpful tips for improving your patient communication skills

You play a crucial role in making your healthcare facility's treatment plan more friendly and personal. Major operations or long-term care can be frightening for patients, while even a regular trip to the doctor's office may feel sterile and uninviting. As a nurse, you are uniquely positioned to help patients feel safe and welcome. At the same time, building a personal relationship can also promote understanding and adherence to medications and treatment plans.

Mastering patient communication skills is anything but trivial, and it can take years to perfect the craft. Be mindful during each interaction, and know that there's always room for improvement. Here are a few things to keep in mind for nurse-patient communication:

1. Make a genuine connection
It is important that you take the time to build a real, honest relationship with patients whenever possible. Even children will feel uncomfortable if your friendliness feels misguided or dishonest. Learn more and try to remember something specific about each patient such as a favorite sports team or movie to create a strong connection that will reinforce day-to-day communication.

2. Know when to talk and when to listen
By getting to know your patients a little better, you can be more attuned to each individual's needs. This is important because in some instances, patients may appreciate a friendly distraction, and a funny anecdote or clever joke can be enough to ignore feelings of anxiousness or discomfort. At the same time, however, some patients may need to vocalize their fears or concerns, and sitting and listening can be equally as impactful.

Nurses are uniquely positioned to have strong personal relationships with patients.Nurses are uniquely positioned to have strong personal relationships with patients.

3. Sit down
According to HemOnc Today, nurses that physically sit beside a patient will see improved results in communication efforts. That means either pulling up a chair or even sitting at the foot of the bed when catching up with a patient. Lyn Zehner, an oncology nurse at Inova Alexandria Hospital in Virginia explained this small but crucial gesture:

"Relevant literature shows that when nurses sit at the bedside, patients tend to think that nurse is with them for a longer time than they are, and patients responded well, which is consistent with literature—making a connection with the patient improves patient outcomes," Zehner said

4. Be clear and concise
Nurse-patient communication plays a major role in supporting medication adherence, according to PHYS. For that reason, whenever giving directions to patients, it is important to make sure you address any questions or concerns. Patients who feel more comfortable are more likely to respond to a treatment plan and pay closer attention when given directions. A nurse can reinforce a physician's advice and gauge a patient's ability to follow through with a medication more clearly.

5. Go digital
By using online patient portals, text messaging and other digital tools, effective nurse-patient communication can extend beyond the examination room. Use these resources to keep in-touch with a patient to build trust and familiarity, to ensure adherence to a treatment plan or simply just to catch up. In this way you can reinforce a positive relationship in ways that were unavailable just a few years ago.

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