8 Ways Nurses Can Build Better Rapport with Patients

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All too often, daily tasks and details can rule a nurse’s day; however, spending time with patients and engaging them on a deeper level can actually play an important role in the healing process. Published research indicates that, when nurses establish a rapport with patients, clinical outcomes can improve and stress experienced by both parties can decrease.

A nurse engages with her patient

Patients who have established a positive relationship with health care professionals are more likely to give detailed, clinically relevant information and to be honest about sensitive subjects that may be embarrassing to talk about. According to a 2014 study published in PLOS Medicine, clinicians who gain their patients’ trust often find them to be more compliant with treatment and more likely to follow up.

Of the different types of clinicians a patient interacts with, nurses are the ones with whom they spend the most one-on-one time. For this and other reasons, nurses are usually responsible for this important aspect of patient communication. As you progress in your studies in the Online Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice program, it’s important to keep in mind the personal nature of the nurse and the nurse practitioner’s jobs.

1. Get to Know Patients on a Personal Level

The easiest way to get most people to open up is to ask them questions. Ask patients about their families, hobbies, interests or other personal information that could potentially create a good back-and-forth conversation. Discussing a patient’s personal interests and engaging him or her on topics outside of the hospital room can help create a unique and positive relationship. This bond may then help ease the individual’s anxieties regarding treatment.

Remembering the answers is almost as important as asking the right questions. This method can backfire if patients don’t think you’re actually paying attention to what they have to say.

2. Practice Active Listening

Making patients feel heard is integral to building rapport, and doing so requires your full attention as you interact with each individual. Active listening – which includes proper eye contact and verbal responses to patient comments and concerns – is one strategy you can employ to reflect your undivided attention and interest.

Practicing active listening can also help you to better put together and understand your patient’s concerns. Nurses are busy, and you may find yourself distracted by multitasking while listening to an individual talk about symptoms or tell stories. In this scenario, you could miss key information that could have helped you develop a care plan.

Active listening is a valuable tool for a number of important reasons, and is a good place to start as you work to build relationships with your patients.

3. Educate Patients About Health Topics

It’s important for patients to understand as much as possible when it comes to their own health. Such informal patient education can help them feel empowered, increasing the positivity of the patient-nurse relationship. Additionally, knowing which symptoms to look for can lead to earlier diagnoses, which can significantly improve the prognosis.

Clinicians should always remember to ask patients directly if they understand these explanations. The same patients who may nod along, pretending to understand, are actually likely to answer these questions truthfully. This strategy helps to find and fill specific knowledge gaps that may prove to be crucial for successful care.

4. Minimize Jargon

Jargon can put up an artificial language barrier that compromises clear communication efforts between clinicians and their patients — and sometimes between clinicians of different specialties. According to some members of the British Medical Association, jargon can actually be detrimental to patient care. When jargon does slip into conversations, it can be helpful to take the extra time to explain what unfamiliar terms mean.

5. Make Sure Needs Are Being Met

An important task of today’s nurse is anticipating and addressing patient needs, both physical and emotional. But in a health care setting, patients themselves might not know what those needs are. The ability to make an accurate assessment of patient needs is a skill that comes with experience. Demonstrating your competency by applying knowledge to a particular patient’s situation can be a quick way to build trust.

6. Ensure Coordination of Care to the Best of your Ability

It often falls upon nurses to make sure all members of a patient’s care team are on the same page. Overseeing care coordination can also involve obtaining health information directly from patients and their families. It’s important to have a good working understanding of the entirety of the patient’s medical complaint – including his or her circumstances, lifestyle, and emotional state – especially when dealing with complex cases. It also helps patients to feel they’re being understood and seen as individuals.

7. Be Respectful

Maintaining a respectful disposition is essential for creating a professional yet compassionate relationship to your patients and their families. Above all, that includes remaining calm and friendly no matter how stressful a situation can get. As a health care provider, you are likely to encounter some people at their most vulnerable moments, and empathy is incredibly important in those moments.

Another aspect of patient respect, that can often be left behind in busy clinics with high nurse-to-patient ratios, is the simple act of calling patients by their names. Try to remember each patient’s name — or work out a way to discreetly check what it is.

8. Actively Assess Patient Satisfaction Through Post-Visit Surveys

What you may see on the surface doesn’t necessarily reflect patients’ true feelings about their experience. Research has found that asking for post-visit feedback can boost patient rapport. From there, the data gathered can be used to identify any areas of patient dissatisfaction that can be addressed through changes to personal communication styles. Though you may not be in control of sending the actual surveys, championing their importance within your organization can be helpful.

Building a mutually beneficial rapport with patients is important for nurses of all kinds, but can be difficult to achieve. It is clear that having the right soft skills as a nurse can be just as important for your patients’ overall health as other aspects of the job.

If you are interested in transitioning your role from nurse to nurse leader, consider pursuing a degree focus on the scientific underpinnings of nursing and health care policy, and more. Visit Maryville University’s online BSN to DNP program website to learn more.


Nurse Together – How to Build Better Rapport with Patients

Nursing Times – “Good communication helps to build a therapeutic relationship”

Wiley Online Library – Umbrella review of the evidence: what factors influence the caring relationship between a nurse and patient?

Endocrine News – Clinical Empathy: A Neglected Force for Improving Care

U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institute of Health – The Influence of the Patient-Clinician Relationship on Healthcare Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials