Better Communication Means Better Patient Outcomes

By Lisa Romano RN, MSN, CNO CipherHealth

In celebration of Nurse’s Week, there are many inspiring messages expressing gratitude for the contributions of nurses everywhere. No matter the type of nursing, the theme is the same. The life of a patient or their family was touched in a positive way by a caring nurse and the memory of how that felt to the person is a treasured one. Maya Angelou wrote, “They may forget your name, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” Helping someone who is suffering feel less pain and facilitating their healing journey is a priceless gift for both the nurse and the patient. It is this relationship, that nourishes a nurse’s soul.

Not surprisingly, the mission of caring aligns with the goals many healthcare organizations set for the patient experience. It is distressing for the nurse and other members of the care team when a patient is unhappy. It is hard not to give in to feelings of despair when you feel like you have saved their life and they are still dissatisfied. What else can you do beyond life-changing, life-sustaining interventions?

The answer may be as simple as recognizing communication as an essential practice and an actual clinical intervention. When the voice of the Patient is placed at the center of care delivery, amazing things happen! When you take the time to listen and communicate compassion with your words and actions, the healing journey truly begins. It is important to remember that when a patient is faced with no control over their illness, they will cling to things that they can control. Choices of food, room temperature, noise, response time to requests, and room cleanliness may seem trivial when compared to critical care needs, but they are something the patient can normally control and can dramatically alter the course of the healing journey.

Communication is a clinical strategy and as essential to healing as prescribed medications and other interventional therapies. Things such as pain, anxiety, anger, fear, and sleep deprivation weaken a patient’s ability to heal. As negative emotions and anxiety escalate, loss of control manifests as heart rate and breathing escalate and pain intensifies. The body can enter panic mode which induces a “fight or flight” response draining precious healing resources of the already compromised individual.

It is hard for someone who is ill to forget the state of high emotions while in the hospital. The good news is, there are simple and impactful ways to lessen pain and fear and improve patient satisfaction and perception of their patient experience.

Some strategies include:

Listen to the patient.
Understand what it is important to them.

Do what you say.
If the patient communicates a concern, make sure it is addressed timely and effectively. Software tools can streamline the communication process and ensure that the voice of the patient is recorded for the next provider who cares for that patient.

Demonstrate caring behavior.
No matter how busy you are, the patient doesn’t need to feel rushed. Let the patient know you are their advocate, that you care, and will make sure they are taken care of. Once the patient feels that caring message, it is critical that issue resolution occurs or they will lose trust.

Incorporate into the care plan the essentials of healing:
– Room cleanliness
– Quiet environment to assist with healing sleep
– Nutrition that is palatable to the patient
– Reduction or elimination of pain
– Reduction of stress by giving the patient some control over their care; demonstrate compassion and caring behaviors beyond clinical intervention

Understand their care needs after discharge
Alleviate their anxiety by ensuring communication with the patient will occur even after they leave the hospital.

While the majority of patients are grateful for life-saving intervention and are forgiving of what might be thought of as the little things that weren’t ideal, repeated exposure to less than ideal or having easy choices for alternate care providers makes it easy for patients to say I’m going to try a new provider or hospital. Patients have choices and access to education to help them make informed decisions and be in control of their health.

We must earn loyalty through exceptional service both clinically and emotionally. We must remember that “saving their life” doesn’t equate to patient satisfaction. We must earn that patient’s trust and never lose it. We must keep them safe and make sure they feel respected as a person and that we care. When that happens, there will be no one more loyal than the person on the receiving end. It’s about going back to basics and we must provide an environment that reduces stress and allows a patient control so they can channel energy in a positive way and allow the healing journey to begin.

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ABOUT LISA ROMANO

As CipherHealth’s CNO, Lisa Romano, RN, MSN is passionate about improving the health of patients across the healthcare continuum. Romano brings more than 25 years of clinical practice, healthcare IT strategy, and healthcare operations experience to her current role. Prior to previous CNO roles, Romano spent 19 years as a nurse and hospital administrator at Lehigh Valley Hospital and Health Network in Allentown, PA, where she was responsible for all patient flow and transfer center operations as well as numerous quality and patient satisfaction initiatives.