Nursing staff must clearly explain medical conditions and treatment options to patients and answer their questions. This ensures they clearly understand their health status and treatment plan. Communicating effectively with team members, including doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals, enables coordinated care. This helps to ensure that all aspects of a patient’s care are considered, and that the patient receives the best possible healthcare. Understanding communication barriers can help nurses find strategies to improve their skills.

Communication is transferring information with the exchange of verbal and nonverbal messages. It is a fundamental skill for all healthcare staff and nurses in particular, as they are with patients and families the most. When nurses communicate with interest and compassion, patients can feel positive about their experience, even when they are ill and distressed.

Communication skills are essential for nurses because they are critical in ensuring safe and effective patient care. Nurses need to communicate effectively with patients to understand their concerns and needs and to provide emotional support. This helps build trust and rapport, which is essential for the patient-nurse relationship. Nurses must also navigate conflicts and difficult situations with patients, families, and other healthcare team members professionally and effectively.

Nurses use communication skills to interact with patients, families, doctors, and clinical staff. They talk to patients about prevention, diagnosis, treatments, prognosis, and rehabilitation. They write health records and descriptions of patients’ conditions. Nurses need to be able to document patient information clearly and accurately, including writing progress notes and other reports. This means other healthcare team members can access all relevant information about the patient’s condition and treatment.

Nurses looking to progress their careers could become family practitioners at Texas Woman’s University. The Master of Science in Nursing is designed for BSN-prepared nurses.

Students taking the FNP degree online gain an understanding of advanced practice nursing and develop as leaders.

Nurse communication with diverse patient populations

The effective communication of complex health information to diverse patient populations can improve health outcomes. One significant barrier to communication is low health literacy which is the ability to understand health information and make appropriate health decisions.

The US Department of Health and Human Services has stated that nine out of ten adults do not understand basic health information, which has a detrimental effect on patient outcomes. Patients with low health literacy are more likely to be readmitted to the hospital and more likely to make mistakes when taking medication.

Nurses can improve communication by not just telling patients what they need to know but also telling them why they need to know. For example, a patient could be told they must maintain a particular blood glucose level but being given the reason that it will reduce the risk of limb amputation will be more effective. Nurses can use the teach-back method, asking the patient to say in their own words what they need to know and do about their health. This can tell the nurse if they fully understand what they have been told.

Nurses can help to improve health literacy by understanding which patients have low health literacy, the barriers to communication, and best practices for culturally and linguistically effective communication. The population of native-born English speakers aged 65 and over is the largest section of society at risk of low health literacy. They have been away from education the longest and may have hearing, vision, or cognitive problems, all risk factors for low health literacy. According to the National Centre for Education Statistics, other groups at greater risk are people living in poverty, ethnic minorities, refugees, immigrants, and those living in the Southern region of the United States.

Indicators that patients have low health literacy include:

  • Registration forms are not filled in completely and have many spelling mistakes.
  • Missed appointments.
  • Medication non-compliance.
  • Inability to explain medical history.
  • Asking very few questions.
  • Not following through with tests or referrals.

Some factors hinder understanding, such as:

  • Language and cultural differences.
  • Vision and hearing issues.
  • Undiagnosed cognitive impairment.
  • The reading level of written materials is too high.

It is better practice to have written materials that are clear and easy to read. They should:

  • Use plain language.
  • Cover just three to five points.
  • Be specific.
  • Use visuals.
  • Have a summary with key points.
  • Use positive language.

Health literacy assessments can be carried out by nurses and attached to the patient’s electronic health records. If the patient has low health literacy, this will bring it to the attention of the healthcare staff, and they can adapt their service to the patient’s needs. Nurses usually spend the most time with patients, so they are in a good position to address health literacy. Nursing staff can improve communication and ensure medical literature is easy to read and understand. 

Communication skills for nurses

Good communication skills are crucial to working with colleagues and providing optimal patient care.

Nurses who take the time to listen and understand patients’ concerns are better prepared to address issues as they arise, resulting in better patient outcomes. Patients who feel comfortable speaking to their nurse are more likely to share the reality of their symptoms. Interpersonal communication skills can affect the decisions made and patient motivation to follow treatment advice and achieve quality clinical outcomes. Nurses use communication in every patient encounter to understand the patient’s concerns and experiences. This includes verbal and nonverbal communication skills, active listening, compassion, and written communication.

Verbal communication

Nurses must adapt communication depending on the patient’s age, culture, and health literacy. Speaking should be in clear, complete sentences, and consideration should be given to the tone of voice. Suitable times should be found for conversations, and nurses should concentrate and not be distracted. Patients can be encouraged to speak by the nurse asking open questions such as “How have you been feeling since surgery?” It is best to use the patient’s first name or the name they prefer rather than terms of endearment. Nurses should speak in clear sentences and should not use jargon.

A nurse uses verbal communication skills to provide accurate information to patients, families, and colleagues. Nurses ensure they are up to date with patients’ records and tell patients about any conditions or instructions in clear, straightforward language that patients can understand. Nurses may ask patients to repeat the information they have been told as a way of ensuring the patients understand. The verbal communication used depends on the audience and situation. For example, a different approach would be used with pediatric patients in a clinical setting than with Emergency Room colleagues regarding the treatment of a trauma patient.

  • Nonverbal communication

People give and receive wordless signals when interacting with others. All nonverbal behavior sends strong messages. Nurses can make people relax, build trust, and forge connections, and the messages continue when speaking stops. Nonverbal communication includes eye contact, body language, gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Smiling can help to build rapport, and nurses can demonstrate their interest by using eye contact and nodding. When possible, nurses should sit down and lean towards the patient to show their interest. Research has found that nurses who sit during patient interactions increase patient satisfaction and trust levels. Negative nonverbal behavior, like rolling eyes, folding arms, or headshaking should be avoided. This can offend and confuse people and undermine what is being said.

  • Active listening

The most effective form of listening requires complete engagement and attention. Listening well means hearing what is said and also realizing what is not being said. Observing the tone of voice and body language can give a better impression of the whole message. Active listening uses verbal communication, such as saying, “Tell me more” or “I understand”. Nonverbal communication could include nodding and eye contact.

There are five key elements:

  • Pay attention (do not interrupt).
  • Use body language to show you are listening.
  • Give feedback.
  • Summarize.
  • Defer judgment and respond appropriately.


  •  Compassion

Compassionate communication is being able to discuss ideas with someone and have empathy for their illness and worries. It entails using active listening and recognizing spoken and nonverbal signals. Compassion has always been important in healthcare, but with an increase in patient-centered care, it is regarded as imperative.

Essential communication skills are knowing when to speak, where to speak, what to say, and when to be silent. Compassion helps nurses communicate more sincerely and showing empathy can help gain the patient’s trust. Nurses can understand what is important to their patients and use a tone that puts them at ease. Compassionate nurses acknowledge patients’ concerns and help them focus on getting better. There will be benefits to paying attention to what, when, and how to communicate. Patients and colleagues will respond more positively, making work more rewarding.

  •  Written communication

Nurses take notes on patients, complete health records, and share information with other nurses and doctors. Records must be up-to-date and accurate as they relate to the patient’s medical care. Patient confidentiality must be adhered to. Notes should be made as soon as possible after patient care and the time and date recorded. Written notes should be clear, legible, and concise to communicate important health information accurately. Nurses should also know what medical terminology and abbreviations to use in their writing and use only approved terminologies.

Keeping good records is part of the nursing care given to patients. Clear and accurate nursing records for each patient are essential when handing over to the nurses on the next shift. These records are used to ensure the well-being of patients. The quality of record keeping can reflect the standard of healthcare given to patients. The patient’s records should provide an exact account of care and treatment, allow problems to be identified and resolved, and contribute to good communication between nursing colleagues.

  • Communication barriers

Communication barriers in nursing can result in weak patient and nurse relationships. A communication barrier is anything that hinders the understanding of messages. The message sent is not always the same as the message received. Decoding messages is based on subjective perceptions and individual factors. It is essential to be aware of these barriers so that any challenges can be addressed.

These barriers include differences in age, culture, religion, and traditions. Understanding a patient’s cultural background can help with communication and avoiding prejudice. Strategies for communication will be tailored depending on the patient’s age.

Nurses need sensitivity when interacting with patients from different cultures. What works with one patient may not work with another. Knowing the health practices and beliefs of every culture is impossible, but nurses can check with the patient about their preferences. They can find out how they would like to be addressed. Using personal space, eye contact, and touching varies in different cultures. Contact between genders is prohibited in some cultures and can consist of hugging, handshakes, and touching arms or shoulders. Sometimes assumptions can be made about people who seem different. It is beneficial for nurses to consider their own experiences and how these can help to improve their communication with people from different cultures.

Many patients are anxious when they need medical care. Stress and anxiety are barriers, as are dementia and other cognitive conditions. To overcome these barriers, nurses can take extra time to listen, be supportive, and empathize. This kind of care can improve patient outcomes and quality of life. Nurses may have their own psychological barriers to overcome. Talking to patients and families about sensitive issues can be upsetting. Research has found that nurses can feel anxious when discussing patient needs and illnesses.


Communication skills play a vital role in nursing. Nurses communicate with patients, families, and colleagues, and this has an impact on the quality of care. Patients are a diverse group, and nurses must adapt how they communicate to ensure patients understand their condition and treatment and feel respected and valued. Nursing staff should take action to overcome any barriers to communication and use their skills to provide an effective and caring service.

By Percy