Effective Communication Skills for Healthcare Professionals to Improve Readmissions

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

According to Healthcare Business & Technology, “Effective communication is central to the patient experience, as evidenced by the focus of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) HCAHPS survey. Approximately three-quarters of the survey’s questions relate to how caregivers communicate with patients and families. Effective communication is important for both short- and long-term episodes of care, but it’s especially critical at key transition points in care, most notably discharge.”

Just as poor communication in a healthcare environment can be detrimental to the employee experience and patient care, the same article offers that “Clear, open communication builds trust, reduces confusion and increases patients’ confidence, which contributes directly to better outcomes and reduced readmission rates. These positive outcomes stem largely from two simple but powerful strategies: listening carefully to patients and explaining things in a way they understand.”

Essential Communication Skills for Reducing Readmissions

Patient Safety & Quality Healthcare (PSQH) reminds us that how communication occurs is just as important as the content involved. They offer, “in today’s healthcare culture, the manner in which information is conveyed is as important as the information itself. This is because care delivery involves countless patient handoffs between providers, units, departments, and facilities, as well as interactions with multiple administrative and care professionals of various backgrounds and levels of training.” Here are some specific communication skills that need to be developed:

Accuracy and Compassion

PSQH also reminds readers that “Every handoff and interaction—whether it’s among caregivers or between caregiver and patient—involves an exchange of information. To be effective from clinical, administrative, and interpersonal perspectives, the information shared must be accurate, thorough, and clear, and the sharing itself must be open, honest, and compassionate.” 


Healthcare organizations must encourage that caregivers develop their skill at listening. Patient Engagement HIT tells us about a research study where, “Patients who said their doctors always listened to them were 32 percent less likely to be readmitted to the hospital, the researchers said. This finding underscores the importance of clear and empathetic patient-provider communication.”

Focused on Care Transitions

Becker’s Hospital Review suggests that hospitals and the care providers working in them need to focus more on care coordination and transfers to post-acute care. They write, “As patients transition out of the hospital, it is critical for the hospital to share information with the post-acute care provider and primary care physician to coordinate patients' care. Hospitals should send a discharge summary with the reason for patients' admission, their health status and medications prescribed to the primary care physicians or other providers who will manage patients' health post-discharge. Sharing this information can ensure all providers understand and adhere to the patients' post-discharge care plan, which can prevent readmissions.”

The Impact of Poor Communication

Inadequate communication skills can be a disaster for patients, as well as for the clinicians providing care. PSQH offers that “Poor communication among care team members and with patients, family members, and postacute care facilities at discharge can result in confusion around follow-up care and medications, potentially leading to unnecessary readmissions and preventable malpractice litigation. In one study using six years of data from nearly 3,000 acute care hospitals, researchers determined that communication between caregivers and patients has the largest impact on reducing readmissions. Specifically, the results indicate that a hospital would, on average, reduce its readmission rate by 5% if it were to prioritize patient communication in addition to complying with evidence-based standards of care.”

The same article makes the following best practices for improving healthcare communication in support of decreasing readmissions:

  • Using a proven communication strategy for structured communication, such as the SBAR technique, to facilitate how clinicians communicate about patients.
  • Provide training for all staff to improve communication skills, which require practice and monitoring.
  • Have leaders be open and visible in their support for efforts to improve organizational communication. Everyone benefits when “Leaders and managers at all levels of the organization should promote patient-centered communication as a requirement for providing safe, high-quality care.”

Learning Options for Improving Nurse Communication Skills

DigitalMed: Leadership and Communication Collection, a 15-course bundle for nurses, that includes “Communication and Culture,” predicated on the belief that “the development of trust and integrity facilitates a positive relationship and improves communication.”

Sigma: Frontline Leader Certificate Program, an evidence-based course that provides clinical charge nurses/frontline leaders with the knowledge and skills essential for their role. Topics covered include conflict management, communication, coaching, and feedback skills in case-based scenarios concerning customer relations, patient safety, interprofessional and intradepartmental situations.