Fostering Effective Communication in Nursing


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Effective and clear communication is critical during the countless interactions that occur between health care professionals on a daily basis. The staff should know how to communicate effectively with one another so that appropriate information is shared in a timely manner. When effective communication does not occur, the patient’s care is compromised.

The Joint Commission, which accredits and certifies more than 19,000 health care organizations and programs in the U.S., states that communication problems have long been cited as a root cause in the majority of the cases studied. The Joint Commission’s Sentinel Event Database reports that hierarchy differences, conflicting roles and power struggles can all lead to communication breakdowns which ultimately compromise patient safety and the quality of care.

Communication, at its most basic level, is the exchange of information between people, groups or entities. This may encompass many types of exchanges, such as verbal and written communication, as well as more subtle communication such as body language, attitude and tone. It is not just about what a person says, but also how he or she says it that is important. Effective communication between nurses and other caregivers is critical to patient safety yet there are numerous challenges that can contribute to poor communication. For example, nurses are trained to be narrative and descriptive in their messages, oftentimes painting a visual image of a situation by their vivid description. Physicians, on the other hand, tend to be action-oriented and usually want to know the main subject matter so that immediate action can be taken.

To encourage effective communication as a part of the daily routine, healthcare organizations must emphasize the importance of teamwork. Methods to promote teamwork need to be adapted to suit the unique characteristics of each organization. However, certain actions are crucial when trying to create an environment where staff across all levels work well together.

There are several actions that have proved to be effective. These include providing team training, eliminating the as much hierarchy as possible and clearly delineating roles and responsibilities. It is also imperative to enforce a zero-tolerance policy for disruptive behavior. Disruptive and intimidating behaviors among healthcare professionals can contribute to medical errors, dissatisfaction among patients and preventable adverse outcomes. It can also cause qualified nurses and other clinicians to seek new positions in more professional environments.

As the frontline deliverers of patient care, nurses have the opportunity to make lasting improvements in communication. There are many things that nurses can do towards the goal of working as a team, such as addressing a physician by name, having patient information and the chart readily available and clearly expressing any concern along with the reason for that concern. In addition, nurses can focus on the patient problem, not the extenuating circumstances and while monitoring the patient problem, make sure they are professional at all times. To successfully implement a communication initiative, organizations should take an organized approach that involves all members of the healthcare team. Effective communication is worth the time and effort of both the organization and the individuals because the positive outcomes will benefit everyone involved.

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