The importance of patient-nurse relationships in healthcare

The importance of patient-nurse relationships in healthcare

Strong patient-nurse relationships are vital to ensuring good patient outcomes and job satisfaction for nurses. Nurses are the healthcare professionals who generally spend the most time with patients, so the rapport between the two is impactful.

A good relationship with nurses positively impacts patient health, including greater satisfaction with their care. Nurses can explore various ways to improve their relationship with patients and investigate ways in which nurses can specialize as advanced practice nurses to enhance their relationship with their patients further. This article explores how nurse-patient relationships can improve patient care and how nurses can study further and improve their relationships with patients and provide more specialized care.

About the patient-nurse relationship

The patient-nurse relationship is the sum of interactions between the healthcare professional and the person under their care. It is a multi-faceted partnership, involving medical care, emotional support, and communication, and requires trust and respect on both sides to work well.

When the relationship is successful, the patient feels supported and safe while the nurse is confident that their patient is open, honest, and compliant with their treatment plan. Relationships based on this premise yield positive outcomes for both the patient and the nurse caring for them.

Why a positive nurse-patient relationship is important

A good relationship is valuable between a nurse and a patient. The trust and rapport that can be built by a nurse with their patient can mean the difference between good patient care and patient care that doesn’t get very far. In addition, good outcomes apply not only to patients but to nurses, the professional environment, and the nursing community. Below, we discuss more about why positive nurse-patient relationships are so valuable:

Patients feel supported

When patients trust and respect their nurse, they will naturally feel safe and supported in the healthcare environment. The feeling of support backed by the trust they feel for their nurse builds an environment for open communication between the patient and their nurse. This open communication leads to patients feeling comfortable communicating any issues or concerns they have with their health that they might not otherwise share. The feeling of support is essential for their emotional wellbeing, at a time that can often be worrying for them. Knowing that they can count on their nurse, approach them with any concerns and questions or seek reassurance from them helps to take away the fear and anxiety around health care issues.

Patients experience shorter hospital stays

Good relationships between nurses and patients in a hospital setting can result in shorter in-patient stays. This can be explained by better communication between nurses and patients, which has the resulting effect of better patient compliance with care leading to shorter recovery times.

One study looked at ways used by a busy New Jersey medical center to reduce long in-hospital length of stays. One of the solutions was to involve more advanced practice nurses (APNs) — professionals with a focus on compassionate care and communication skills — in many aspects of patient care. The study found that because of all the solutions offered, including greater involvement of APNs, the length of in-hospital stays was reduced.

Patients feel more satisfied

Good patient-nurse relationships naturally lead to greater patient satisfaction scores. These scores are important not only because of their contribution to great patient outcomes but also because they help to reinforce the reputation of healthcare organizations.

The link between the patient-nurse relationship and patient satisfaction was highlighted in a recent study, finding that a good rapport increased scores. This discovery could provide the basis for policies for relationship care systems, the study added.

Nurses are more fulfilled

A positive patient-nurse relationship is not only great for patients, but good for nurses too. When they achieve positive patient outcomes through successful communication and compassionate care, nurses’ job satisfaction increases. This is good for both individual nurses and the healthcare profession.

How nurses build connections with patients

Nurses build connections with their patients in a variety of ways, some of them intuitively in the way they interact with their charges and some of them in a more deliberate, strategic manner. We explore some of these methods below:

By communicating effectively

Good communication is essential for the success of any relationship, especially when one party, the patient in this case, may be feeling anxious or emotional. A competent nurse will work with a variety of communication methods, adapting their style to suit the individual patient and their health concerns. They will also ensure that their patients understand their diagnosis and treatment choices as well as any self-care or compliance required through clear two-way communication.

Developing communication skills is a key part of any nursing program, from foundation through to advanced levels. Nurses may wish to focus on this area in their continuing professional development as it affects many aspects of their everyday tasks.

By actively listening

Linked to good communication is the practice of active listening. Nurses must closely observe their patients, noting body language, emotional state, and a patient’s level of understanding of their issues. They will allow their patients to express themselves in a way that suits them best, whether that is through direct conversation or via an advocate.

Nurses can practice active listening skills by noting the body language of their patients, maintaining eye contact, and making appropriate expressions and gestures themselves. They can also follow the patient’s train of thought, rather than punctuate the conversation with questions and remarks. Nurses may also reflect on the conversation, expressing in their own words what they have understood the patient has said.

By showing empathy

Empathy is the ability to identify, understand and sympathize with the feelings of others. It’s a key soft skill in nursing, enabling nurses to put themselves in the shoes of their patients and develop a greater understanding of their challenges, feelings, and perspective. When patients are treated with empathy by nursing staff, they feel supported and confident.

Just like any other skill, empathy can be developed. While some individuals may be naturally empathetic, others can also enhance their skills by practicing some simple exercises. These include reading body language or imagining how a certain situation could make someone feel. Active listening, covered in the section above, is also an effective way to develop empathy.

By being aware of diversity

Understanding that no two patients are the same and that each has their own unique perspectives, needs and challenges provides a solid foundation for a positive patient-nurse relationship. It’s essential that nurses show awareness of their patients’ distinguishing qualities to cement their relationship and ensure that it is one of mutual respect, trust and understanding.

Nursing education at all levels includes consideration of cultural, religious, and other types of diversity. Nurses can seek out additional learning opportunities in this area, for example by studying for a higher degree that includes modules on diversity, cultural and social issues and how these areas relate to patient experiences and outcomes.

By advocating for their patients

Advocacy is a valuable life skill which is especially appropriate to the role of nurse. As a nurse, it involves using their role to speak on behalf of their patients or speak up for their rights or best interests. A nurse who does this confidently and sensitively will gain the trust and confidence of their patients, helping to build a positive and respectful relationship.

Nurses can enhance their advocacy skills informally in their everyday tasks. They may do this simply by practicing speaking up with confidence on behalf of their patients — the more they do this, the more natural it becomes. Nurses can also improve their ability to advocate for their patients by researching resources available to them. Knowing where to direct a patient or who to ask for help for an additional service is the foundation of advocating successfully for patients.

Study towards a rewarding advancement

We’ve seen that the patient-nurse relationship is the cornerstone to a positive patient journey. Nurses wishing to develop their skills and potentially have an impact on the connection between nurses and patients can explore obtaining further qualifications.

One way in which nurses can expand their knowledge and improve their patient-nurse relationships would be to enroll in one of the online DNP FNP programs available through a reputable institution such as Wilkes University, which is designed to provide nurses with the essential skills and expertise to take on leadership roles in nursing.

A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) qualification is the highest level of nursing degree and opens the door to leadership roles. This program can be completed online and is designed to educate students in the application of scientific enquiry, innovation, and technology to further their potential in nursing practice. With this degree, students will have the chance to make recommendations to improve healthcare delivery based on best practices, which can ultimately improve outcomes for patients and communities.

This program is designed to enable nurses to obtain their DNP in as little as two years, and provides nurses with the skills to influence healthcare outcomes. As the coursework can be completed online, students can complete the course without having to attend campus, providing some flexibility with their home and work life.

Nurses with a DNP are skilled in ethical principles, diversity and social issues, leadership in advanced nursing and collaboration in healthcare delivery among other skills. These skills are important in aiding nurses to build relationships with their patients. Their skills in ethical principles, social issues and diversity can be key in building rapport with patients of different backgrounds. Understanding their patients’ backgrounds means that nurses can empathize and determine how best to communicate with their patients. Earning a DNP is a valuable way in which to develop these vital skills.

You will also be supported in completing nursing clinicals and will be guided by a preceptor and/or a mentor working in a leadership role. This program is designed to prepare nurses to specialize in a wide range of advanced practice fields. Nurses will also be prepared to aim for leadership roles within the nursing field.

Working towards better outcomes for patients

Nurses provide the link between their patients and the rest of the healthcare system, offering support, guidance, and care to people when they are at their most vulnerable. Building and maintaining a good rapport with patients is an essential part of a nurse’s duty, enabling them to access the best possible care and outcomes and feel safe and supported in the healthcare environment.

With the right training and support, nurses can aspire to build positive, fulfilling relationships with their patients that enhance their experience and promote greater job satisfaction. If this is an area that is meaningful to you, one that you understand to offer many benefits for both patients and healthcare professionals, then consider training for an advanced practice nursing role.


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