Tips for conversing with your patients

Tips for conversing with your patients Share this article

Nurses spend a significant amount of time among a variety of patients on any given day. Despite being hard pressed for time, conversation is important to set the patient at ease and let them know the facility cares about them. They often just have time to check on a patient, examine his or her vitals and ask a few questions, so it's important that conversation is effective and efficient.

There are a number of ways that nurses can work to improve their interactions with patients to be the most cordial and provide the most information possible. Here are some tips to do just that.

Speak clearly and slowly 
One of the biggest hindrances to conversation may be misunderstanding – especially in a clinical setting. When a nurse has been dealing with patients for many years, it can be easy to brush over medical information that may seem mundane, but for many patients this is all foreign. Nursing advice site RNCentral told nurses to speak clearly without being loud. Patients won't be able to converse without knowing exactly what's said. 

Nurses will also want to speak slowly and give patients time to process the information and form a question. In some situations it may seem like a long time, but this can facilitate an important, in-depth conversation that'll further the patient's understanding of the diagnosis, procedure or medication. RNCentral also suggested that people talk about one subject at a time. 

Check your body language 
Although many nurses may be completely approachable people filled with knowledge and ready to help, if there isn't body language to back it up, patients will be hesitant. The journal OR Nurse 2014 advised that nurses keep their appearance in check, otherwise their words may not carry weight. 

It's not just looking professional by wearing scrubs and safe work shoes – it's about giving a patient nonverbal cues. Nurses should stand tall with their hands outside of their pockets. Arms should be uncrossed and hands shouldn't be wrung or made into a fist. Avoiding these behaviors show that a nurse is interested, not angry and aware. A sincere smile and confidence are also powerful tools that can give a nurse authority and approachability. 

The journal also explained that professional dress that helps patients easily identify who the nurse is can add to patient-provider trust, which can foster effective conversation. 

Take advantage of every meeting 
A study of mental health nurses and patients conducted in 2004 by researchers from the School of Nursing at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, found that patients and nurses benefit from seizing every opportunity to talk. Rather than giving a simple "hi" at a first meeting or waiting for a proper introduction later, nurses can build the best relationships with early, frequent and creative interactions. The study explained that these encounters can help create a more trusting and therapeutic relationship. 

Help your patient feel comfortable 
There's a difficult line to walk as a nurse. You want to create a comfortable space for your patient, but you can't treat him or her as you would a good friend. You don't want to joke or be too fun, as these can be offensive or make light of a difficult situation. The best thing may be to try to connect with your patient in a simple way. Nurses can use basic topics – like weather or sports – as well as more specific sympathy for a situation to establish a baseline friendliness.

Many times when people are interacting with a nurse, a situation can be sad or at least uncomfortable. This is when it's most important for a nurse to show him- or herself as a kind, compassionate person ready to help. 


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