6 Essential Nursing Communication Skills & How to Boost Them

6 Essential Nursing Communication Skills
Experienced nurses are aware of the consequences of miscommunication in healthcare. Communication issues can lead to the wrong diagnosis, inconsistent treatment, and can even create a threat to a patient’s health.

Real-Life Examples of Miscommunication in Healthcare

Gerald Oginski, a medical malpractice lawyer from New York, revealed a few cases involving miscommunication.

In one of them, a woman came to her gynecologist with a breast lump. The doctor sent her to do a sonogram and a mammogram, but the radiology technician and the supervising nurse, after completing the sonogram, persuaded the woman from doing a mammogram, saying her sonogram was normal.

When the woman called to make another appointment with her gynecologist, the nurse from the doctor’s office also didn’t ask for the results of the mammogram and only relayed the information about the sonogram.

As a result, the doctor failed to diagnose stage I breast cancer in time when it still could have been localized.

Who’s at Fault Here?

In this situation, the radiology technician, the supervising nurse from the radiology facility, and the nurse from the doctor’s office violated the basic standards of medical care.

While the radiology technician has no authority to comment on the results of the tests, the supervising nurse and the nurse from the doctor’s office failed to abide by the gynecologist’s request, which resulted in a lawsuit, and, most importantly, put a patient’s health in danger.

Poor Communication is the Leading Reason for Medical Malpractice

According to the study by CRICO, a business management consultancy company that works with all Harvard medical institutions, communication fails resulted in 30% of all medical malpractice cases from 2009 to 2013.

CRICO studies 23,000 medical malpractice cases, 7,149 out of which involved miscommunication, resulting in 1,744 deaths, 37% of high-severity injury claims, and $1.7 billion in hospital costs.

The study also suggests that the actual number of cases can be much higher because many patients are not aware that miscommunication has caused their injuries, and that’s why they don’t take any legal action.

What Part Do Nurses Play in It?

Nurses often act as mediators between a doctor, a patient, and a patient’s family. It is often your task as a nurse to pass on the doctor’s words to the patients, which you also need to do correctly and respectfully.

That is why it is essential for nurses to have good communication skills and constantly work on improving them.

What Are Essential Nursing Communication Skills?

To be a good communicator, and also to succeed in your nursing career, you should possess the following set of communication skills:

  • Clarity and concision. When giving feedback or answering questions from a patient, you should know how to formulate your answers in a detailed, yet clear and concise way.

  • An essential communication skill for nurses is the ability to be open-minded and respectful towards the patient’s choices, and deliver feedback without judgment, prejudice, and stereotypes.

  • Active listening. Your task as a nurse is not only to deliver feedback, it’s also to receive it. Thus, it is essential to have the ability to actively listen to the patient’s concerns, as they might be important for the course of treatment.

  • Non-verbal communication. Your body language, gestures, eye contact, and other non-verbal signs are very important for successful communication. Thus, it is crucial to have the ability to control your body when interacting at work.

  • Cultural awareness. As a nurse, you often deal with patients coming from different cultures. Thus, it is important to teach yourself how to be sensitive to these differences and how to overcome the language barrier in communication.

Besides oral communication, as a nurse, you should also have good written communication skills in case you have to interact with a patient, their family, or your colleagues via email, etc.

How Can You Improve Your Nursing Communication Skills?

Whether you already have experience or just starting your career path in nursing, you constantly need to work on improving your communication skills.

We want to share with you a few tips on how you can do that effectively and become a better professional.

1. Practice Active Listening

Being a good communicator is being a good listener as well. We already mentioned that the ability to actively listen can bring up some important details about the patient’s health or their concerns regarding their treatment.

Here are a few ways you can practice active listening while in professional communication situations:

  • Pay attention. Look at the speaker directly and shield yourself from other environmental distractions. However, consider your patient’s cultural background before looking them directly in the eye, as, in some cultures, such behavior can be considered inappropriate.

  • Use non-verbal signs to show that you’re listening. Smile and nod to show that you’re engaged in the conversation. You can also use short verbal signs that you understand, what the speaker is saying.

  • Give feedback. To make sure that you understand the speaker correctly, you can paraphrase what they are saying, ask questions to clarify their points, and, after each point they make, summarize the conversation.

These strategies are useful not only in the conversations with the patients but also when dealing with a challenging colleague. However, keep in mind, that it is important not to let any judgment interfere with the course of the conversation not to make it counterproductive.

2. Exercise Situational Awareness

Situational awareness is your ability to perceive certain elements and events in your environment, with regard to time, setting, and the meaning of the situation you are in.

To practice situational awareness, you can incorporate the following exercises in your daily routine:

  • The OODA loop. This exercise suggests you use the observation-orientation-decision-action loop to practice situational awareness. First, you observe the environment, then you apply the details you’ve noticed to the current situation, after which you make a decision and take action. This exercise can help you learn, how not to rush to decisions and act more consistently in crisis situations.

  • Peripheral vision exercise. A part of being a good communicator is being highly attentive to your surroundings. Training your peripheral vision can help you improve your situational awareness and your attention to detail.

  • “What’s that sound?” exercise. When you can, take a moment to pay attention to the sounds surrounding you and name each of them. This exercise can help you learn how to think critically and be more aware of your surroundings. You can do the same exercise to identify objects around you to train your ability to focus and pay attention.

Situational awareness can help you recognize the patient’s needs, for instance, when they need you to make personal connections, which can actually improve the patient satisfaction scores by 43% and make the treatment process more successful, as a result.

3. Work on Written Communication Skills Regularly

Workplace interactions for nurses do not only come to oral communication. Often, nurses have to communicate in a written form, especially now, when many patients choose remote doctor’s appointments because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

You don’t have to spend too much time on improving your written communication skills, considering how busy your working day can be. However, make sure you exercise the following activities once in a while.

  • Alternate oral and written communication. Write emails and notes to your colleagues and patients as often as it is appropriate to practice your writing skills.

  • Take writing courses, when possible. You can take courses and use writing guides on platforms like Udemy, Skillshare, BestEssayEducation, or SupremeDissertations, where experts also share their opinion on how to develop professional writing skills.

  • Read as much as you can. Reading general as well as specialized literature enriches your vocabulary, positively impacting your writing skills as well.

All the rules that you apply in oral communication are also applicable to written communication. To succeed in it, you also need to be an active listener, show empathy, respect, and be aware of cultural differences.

4. Participate in Volunteering Programs

If you’re just starting your career path, you can find opportunities for improving your communication skills by participating in volunteering programs.

In these programs, you often get a mentor, who can teach you both oral and written communication skills. It is also a great opportunity to grow your network and find connections that you can use to get a job.

On EveryNurse, you can find reputable volunteering opportunities for nurses, including some programs abroad, and apply for volunteer grants to cut the participation costs.

It’s All About Your Effort

Improving your communication skills takes time and depends on how well you can notice and take advantage of every opportunity to do it.

Hopefully, with our tips and advice, you will be able to recognize these opportunities, and consistently and methodically improve your nursing communication skills to achieve success in all your interactions at work.

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