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Maintaining Effective Communication With Patients

One of our best tools as nurses is communication. And in my experience, communication is both an art and a skill that must be mastered. Remember, that we have to deal not only our patients but also their families, the doctors, and other healthcare professional involved in his/her care. Just imagine if a nurse is not able to deliver the correct message to these persons? This article will review some of the very important points in performing the right and effective communication techniques.

Prepare yourself

Most nurses believe that they are able to deliver health care information the moment they are facing the patient. Experts believe that one’s preliminary disposition towards the encounter can have an impact to the result of the interaction. It is best to prepare yourself for the optimal exchange. Think beforehand that you will give this patient your full attention and you will truly listen to what this patient is saying before responding.

The Preliminaries

This is now the stage that you are ready to talk with the patient (and families). Don’t forget to practice basic courtesies like knocking the door before entering.

The next thing that you should do is to create an environment that enhances a true exchange and connection.  You can achieve this through the following:

  • Communicate to the patient who you are, what you do and who are the members of the team.
  • Acknowledge the patient by the name they prefer to be called
  • Sit near the patient, rather than stand.
  • Make eye contact with the patient
  • Be aware of your body language and its subconscious meaning.
  • Whenever possible, reassure the patient through the power of touch*.
  • Repeat what the patient has asked me to ensure my understanding of their question.
  • Engage family members present, recognizing their important role in the care of the patient.

The Working Phase

Communicating health care information is difficult. The concepts are complex and emotional. Most nurses view this phase as the most difficult part of the communication process. Some verbalized that they get trapped on other issues of the patient and families that they sometimes neglect to convey their exact goal of the interaction. Always remember that your meeting with the patient is to provide information and confirm understanding afterwards. Explain what you are saying slowly and in small doses, giving the patient adequate time to process the information. Gently ask the patient what they have understood during the conversation. If your purpose of the interaction is to do health teaching, include in your goal to assist the patients to be true partners in their care by giving them access to information about their disease process. You can suggest articles, websites, books, and consumer libraries that might be helpful for further understanding. Don’t forget to use technology, as appropriate, to highlight important points.

Before ending the conversation…

Thinking that you have finished your short presentation with the patient and with other pending tasks on hand, you just automatically say goodbye, and rushed to the door without even evaluating if the patient have truly understood you.

Ask for feedback on your communication style. If the patient is able to give feedback, ask if the manner and style in which you communicating is effective. This is to make sure that you have established an open and clear dialogue.

Culture Specific Communication

*Touch is a cultural behaviour and may have different interpretations in various cultures. Here are other helpful guidelines in being culturally competent when communicating with patients coming from different cultures.

  • Respect personal space.

This is the invisible boundary around each person that allows them to feel safe when interacting with others. Personal space may be influenced by culture, age, emotional state, or life experiences. When someone’s personal space is violated, he or she may feel insecure, fearful, disrespected, or angry and will, therefore, be unable to openly communicate with the nurse.

  • Understand the meaning of eye contact.

You should be aware that different cultures may view direct eye contact very differently. In American culture, direct eye contact typically signals that the nurse is focused on the speaker. However, in other cultures, direct eye contact may be perceived as a challenge to one’s authority, disrespect, defiance, or otherwise be unacceptable between members of the opposite sex, varying age groups, or between all members of specific cultures.

  • Ask first.

Some cultures may have a specific paternal or maternal representative to both receive and convey information for the patient. However, you shouldn’t assume that the patient wants a representative because he or she is from a specific culture. Always ask the patient what his or her preference is.

  • Speak the language.

If the patient doesn’t speak English fluently, you should utilize a language interpreter, which will allow you to fully explain all healthcare information and also allow the patient to have all questions answered in his or her native language to decrease stress and anxiety.