Why Does Communication in Nursing Matter?

Nursing responsibilities vary from day to day and from one healthcare setting to another. RNs administer medications, monitor patients and coordinate with healthcare teams to plan and provide care. They assist in surgeries, supervise patient care personnel, treat illnesses, handle emergencies, conduct research, document care, and so much more.

What does not vary is the need for communication. Communication skills are an expectation in most careers. But in nursing, communication skills go hand in hand with patient outcomes. Whether gathering information during a health assessment, transferring or “handing off” patient care responsibility, or answering questions about a diagnosis, effective communication skills improve quality of care.

Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) programs provide students with opportunities to strengthen communication skills for healthcare settings. Students enrolled in the RN to BSN program at the University of Southern Indiana (USI) can count on sharpening their communication skills, while also developing competencies in evidence-based practice, informatics and other essential topics.

How Do Communication Skills Drive Patient-Centered Care?

Patient-centered care is a priority in healthcare today, and it is about much more than patient satisfaction. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) — now the National Academy of Medicine — identified patient-centered care as one of six areas of focus for improving the quality of health care.

The IOM defines patient-centered care as “care that is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs, and values.” Patient-centered care by definition involves building partnerships with patients to engage them in their care. This requires competent communication skills from the very first “hello.”

On the other side of the equation, a lack of communication skills can lead to negative health outcomes. Poor communication is well-documented by The Joint Commission as one of the top three contributors to “sentinel events.” Sentinel events are “any unanticipated event in a healthcare setting resulting in death or serious physical or psychological injury to a patient or patients, not related to the natural course of the patient’s illness.”

Failed hand-off communications are one example of these sentinel events. During the course of a hospital stay, for example, patients may be treated by various doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals. Patient hand-offs happen during nursing shift changes. They also happen when physicians transfer patient responsibility.

As Becker’s Hospital Review puts it, this patient journey through the healthcare setting is “ripe for critical communication breakdowns, presenting a clear and present threat to his or her safety.” According to The Joint Commission, communication failures in U.S. hospitals and medical practices contributed to $1.7 billion in malpractice costs over five years. That alone is a compelling reason to boost communication skills.

But the need for effective communication may come down to something simpler. In “If You Build It, Will They Come? Designing Truly Patient-Centered Health Care,” authors Christine Bechtel and Debra L. Ness report that what patients want, and need, is for their healthcare providers to talk to one another.

Communication goes a long way in improving patient-centered care and patient satisfaction. Knowing that patients are getting what they need just might increase job satisfaction for nurses, as well.

Learn more about USI’s online RN to BSN program.


Institute of Medicine: Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century

The Joint Commission: Sentinel Event Alert 58: Inadequate Hand-off Communication

Becker’s Hospital Review: Hand-Off Communication: The Weak Link in Healthcare

Patients’ Perspectives: If You Build It, Will They Come? Designing Truly Patient-Centered Health Care

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