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3 Patient-Nurse Etiquette Mistakes, and How to Avoid Them



First Impressions

First impressions in any relationship are lasting and the nurse-patient relationship is no different. It is imperative when a nurse walks into a patient’s hospital room that they introduce themselves, and let the patient know exactly why they are in the room. For instance, the nurse could say “I am Jane Smith and I am going to be your nurse today”. If their door is closed, knock first.

If the nurse has another person with her, such as a nurse’s aide, she should also be introduced. If a nurse-patient encounter occurs in a doctor’s office, the same courtesy holds true and the nurse should shake hands with the patient. A strong handshake makes a strong first impression. Also, smile when greeting a new patient as this fosters a positive impression. If the nurse should accidentally call the patient by the wrong name, apologize immediately, and state the correct name.

Courtesy and Empathy

In this same regard, the nursing staff will sometimes talk to the elderly as if they are children, which is very uncomfortable for some patients. They use elder speak, which is a “manner of communicating to older people using a slow rate of speaking, simplified syntax, vocabulary restrictions, and exaggerated prosody on the assumption that their age makes them cognitively impaired.” Elderspeak can mean calling the patient “Honey,” “Sweetie” or talking to the patient as if they are a toddler.

Call the patient by their proper name, “Mrs. Smith”, unless they specifically say “Call me Mary”. Address family members by their proper name as well. Sometimes nursing staff may speak loudly, assuming the elderly patient is hard of hearing. If a nurse suspects a patient is hard of hearing and does not have hearing aids, they should ask questions to evaluate the depth of the problem. Elderly people should always be treated with respect. Yale University research has shown that elder speak promotes such a negative image of aging that patients subjected to elder speak have a lower survival rate.

Most patients when hospitalized feel vulnerable and out of control especially when they are facing a serious illness or surgery. It is very important for a nurse to help the patient feel more in control, and it establishes a relationship of trust. Empathize with the patient and listen to their fears if they choose to share. Always make eye contact, remembering 80% of communication is nonverbal. Do not stand with your arms crossed or look at your watch, which indicates you have somewhere else to be that is more important. Watch for the patient’s nonverbal cues also.

Allow the patient to make choices whenever possible. Keep the patient and family members informed as to what procedures the nurse is going to do or what procedures might be scheduled. Being kind and considerate promotes a much more positive experience.

A nurse must treat embarrassing situations with professionalism. For instance, a patient may pass gas. Since this is a good sign for a patient that has had some type of colon surgery or procedure, it would be appropriate for the nurse to state, “That is a good sign. Your intestines are working”. Safety is very important following surgery as well since a significant number of people faint the first time they get out of bed due to body fluid changes. The nurse should always ask the patient to call for assistance when they want to get out of bed for the first time following surgery. This dizziness will usually quickly pass.

Maintain Strong Ethics

As a nurse, it is important to document any adverse event in the patient’s medical record. If you are taking care of a difficult patient and they should threaten to sue you, inform your supervisor immediately. Sometimes the manager may replace you with another nurse, but certain steps should be taken to try and resolve any problems. It is a good idea for two employees to be in the room at the same for any patient care, so there is a witness to any patient care. It may be that the patient is frustrated, scared, or in pain. Many problems can be solved with good communication.