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Measuring Nurse Competency: Interpersonal & Communication Skills

This blog post, focused on interpersonal communication and nursing, continues our series on measuring nurse competency.

Interpersonal communication plays an essential role in healthcare, with a sizeable impact on patient outcomes, as well as a contributor to the experience of the healthcare workplace. According to a 2020 article in the Houston Chronicle, “Clear communication between health care professionals, their colleagues and patients is key. Without strong interpersonal communication processes and skills, grave mistakes can be made that affect the lives of the people involved.”

The Value of Effective Interpersonal Communication for Patients

No one in healthcare needs effective communication more than patients. In many cases, it may be the linchpin for positive outcomes. The UK’s Royal College of Nursing has identified three ways that good communication is a benefit for patients:

  • Good communication helps a patient feel at ease—to be a patient is often to be anxious. Healthcare workers can use effective communication to diminish patient anxiety and build their confidence.
  • Good communication supports a patient’s feeling of being more in control—The nature of being a patient involves a loss of control and can be accompanied by feelings of hopelessness, which is a detriment to healing,
  • Good communication makes a patient feel valued—When a healthcare worker chooses to give time to a patient, it is also a expression of value. Communicating well reinforces this impact.

Interpersonal Communication Among Healthcare Colleagues

There’s a crucial moment in healthcare when interpersonal communication among nurse colleagues plays a vital role—nursing shift changes. Portland Community College singles out the “exchange of patient information during shift changes” as a critical process. A worst-case scenario is when “important information falls through the cracks [and] the risk of patient injuries, death, and malpractice goes up.” There should be organized systems and processes for sharing information, preferably “at the patient's bedside instead of at the nurses’ station” so that patients feel more involved in their own healthcare.

Patients Can Suffer When Staff Interpersonal Communication is Not Effective

An earlier HealthStream blog post examined the effects of poor communication patterns between nurses and providers. Here are two examples of what can go wrong:

  • Information Overload, Provided Too Quickly

    One bad communication pattern happens at stressful times when the staffer offers an overwhelming cascade of information and too quickly. Imagine a patient who is destabilizing. The nurse contacts the physician, providing a rapid-fire account, from vital signs and history to medications give and any recent relevant events prior to the current state. Though the information is important, a lack of logic in its presentation may hamper the provider’s attention and a discount to the nurse’s concerns.

  • A Power Imbalance that Discourages Action

    Another common problem involves a nurse hesitant to speak up about a patient problem to be addressed. Linked to the tradition power hierarchy between nurses and physicians, this situation may lead a nurse to feel voiceless and dismissed. Nurses know their patients best. Not listening to them can be a disaster.


The Impact on Patients of Poor Communication

According to Becker’s Health IT, the patient impact from inadequate communication skills is overwhelming. They share that 80% of medical errors, which cause up to 400,000 deaths annually and close to 10,000 serious medical complications daily, result from poor communication during care transitions. Another statistic is that hospitals lose as much as $12 billion annually, representing 2% of revenue, due to poor communication. 

If we are going to improve patient outcomes, we have to focus on successful communication as a nurse competency, work to measure it, and develop training to improve it in those lacking adequate skills.

Our blog series about measuring nurse competency was developed to bring attention to all the attributes that contribute to truly competent nursing. In addition to this post, others address:

  • Patient care
  • Medical clinical knowledge
  • Practice-based learning and improvement
  • Professionalism
  • System-based practice

Ensure Competency of Nursing Staff at Every Level

In today’s value-based healthcare environment, it is more important than ever to be able to eliminate guesswork and develop a standard level of competency across the entire organization. Utilizing proven data to identify development needs is not just a nice-to-have. It’s a must-have. Learn more about HealthStream solutions for nurse competency management.

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