How to Develop a Good Nurse-Patient Relationship

August 02, 2017

Building rapport with your patients is a critical part of becoming a great nurse, but it’s not always easy to navigate nurse-patient relationships. From establishing trust to respecting autonomy, we’re shedding light on how to strengthen these relationships while maintaining your professional boundaries and fulfilling your clinical obligations.

5 Ways to Strengthen Nurse-Patient Relationships

  1. Build trust.

Trust is the single biggest component of a healthy nurse-patient relationship, and its importance can’t be overstated. When your patients feel as if they can count on you, they’re much more likely to listen to your medical advice and confide in you about their conditions.

Always follow through on your promises and stick to your word in order to gain your patients’ respect and demonstrate your credibility. Be honest if you don’t have the answer to a question rather than taking a guess, and make it a point to find out the answer. Building trust requires taking a few extra steps, but going that extra mile pays off dividends.

Keep in mind that this trust extends to the entire medical team. Never talk poorly about a coworker in front of a patient; instead, empathize with a patient’s complaints while maintaining your professionalism. It takes time to earn a patient’s trust — and only a moment to break it.

  1. Actively listen.

Patients have so much on their minds, and it’s easy to lose sight of this while you’re trying to take care of your daily tasks.

Do your best to slow down and take extra time with your patients, checking in on their emotions, concerns and questions. Doing so shows your patients that you’re invested in their medical care and that you value their overall well-being, which goes a long way in reducing their anxiety and reassures them that they’re not alone.

Make eye contact rather than flipping through their charts while they talk, acknowledge their emotions, encourage them to communicate with open-ended questions and allow them to express themselves fully without interruption.

The simple act of repeating what they’ve just told you will not only help you listen more effectively, but it will reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings and miscommunication, as well.

  1. Practice empathy.

All too often, patients feel separated from their healthcare team. Sometimes, they even feel altogether excluded. Doctors and nurses are quick to make critical decisions and treatment suggestions without spending enough time with their patients to ensure that everyone is on the same page. This can seriously strain your patient rapport and lead to a sense of distrust.

Prevent this from happening by taking a few extra moments to inquire about pain, worries, questions, etc. and acknowledging the answers. Reaffirm that it’s normal to worry about upcoming procedures, and empathize with the emotions they choose to share with you.

The bottom line? Imagine how you would feel in their shoes, and let that guide your words and actions accordingly.

  1. Be respectful.

One of the best ways to build strong relationships with your patients is by showing them your utmost respect at all times. Introduce yourself, ask for their preferred names, shake their hands and smile. These little steps directly impact how you’re perceived, and they can make your patients feel much more connected to you as a person as well as a healthcare provider.

Similarly, make sure that patients are able to self-direct their care as much as possible. Respect their wishes without passing judgement, and honor their basic right to privacy. Never dismiss their concerns, and always give them sufficient time to make difficult decisions without feeling rushed.

Keep in mind that respect is also displayed through your nonverbal communication. No matter how stressful your shift may be, always enter a patient’s room by knocking first, greeting them with a smile and making eye contact. Staying cognizant of your outward demeanor will help you build rapport with even the most challenging of patients.

  1. Maintain professional boundaries.

As always, you’ll want to ensure that you’re maintaining appropriate professional boundaries with your patients at all times. It’s easy to choose favorites or feel more comfortable with certain patients than others, but you’ll want to make sure that your behavior is consistent and objective.

Some patients may want to hold your hand, while others won’t want to be touched. Some may want your medical opinion, and others will want to speak solely to their doctors. Respecting these wishes is crucial to supporting your patients’ autonomy.

Benefits of Positive Nurse-Patient Interactions

Fostering positive relationships with your patients doesn’t just make your day-to-day work more enjoyable. These amicable interactions come with a long list of rewards that benefit nurses and patients alike. For instance, consider the following:

  • Strong connections with your patients lead to increased trust and medical compliance, and patients who feel disconnected from their nurses are less likely to follow their instructions.
  • Patients who trust their nurses are more likely to confide in them about any issues, concerns or symptoms they may be experiencing. This information can lead to more accurate diagnoses and better patient care.
  • The amount of time nurses spend with their patients is positively correlated with higher nurse-patient trust, respect and rapport. More one-on-one time also allows patients to feel like their nurses better understand their medical conditions.
  • Nurse-patient empathy can help defuse patients’ feelings of frustration, anxiety, sadness or anger.
  • Positive nurse-patient relationships lead to better patient outcomes. When patients are relaxed, they often have shorter hospital stays, decreased pain, decreased anxiety and a more optimistic outlook on their overall recovery.

A Better Relationship Means Better Care

As a nurse, you hold a certain amount of power. Use it wisely to offer better care to your patients, and resist using it to sway a decision, pass along judgement or undermine a patient’s dignity. Never try to convince a patient that your way is the right way just because of your special bond, and don’t be short with a patient just because you never found common ground.

Your patients’ care is your primary concern. And while the nurse-patient relationship is a critical part of the equation, it doesn’t overshadow your clinical responsibilities and ethical bounds.

How do you develop good relationships with your patients? Share your best techniques in the comments section below.

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