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Arkansas State University

Communication Between Nurses and Physicians

As healthcare has become more complex, effective communication between nurses and physicians has become more important. Nurses work on the front lines of patient care and are the first to receive patients, the first to measure their vitals and the first to assess their symptoms. Sometimes, this initial interaction offers additional information that can mean the difference between a smooth recovery and a complicated one.

Communication in Nursing

Nurses and physicians are at different places on the healthcare spectrum. While doctors diagnose and prescribe, nurses measure and follow through. This dynamic gives them each a unique perspective when it comes to patients, but each perspective is only valuable as a complement to the other. For example, if a doctor prescribes a medication but fails to explain the reason for that medication, the nurse may not be able to answer patients’ questions about the medicine. The lack of information devalues the purpose of the treatment. One recent study found that in an emergency room setting, 23% of patients didn’t receive adequate information about their diagnosis and one quarter of them didn’t understand after-care instructions, including what to do if their condition worsened. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and quality, these “types of communication breakdowns can lead to an adverse event and harmful consequences.”

Formalizing Communication with SBAR

One way that nurse-physician communication has improved over the last decade has been through the introduction of SBAR. It has standardized communication by breaking information into four parts: situation (S), background (B), assessment (A) and recommendations (R). It has proven effective in nurse-physician communication, allowing each to give and receive vital information. The use of SBAR helps frame conversations and ensure that critical information is communicated, which can help foster a culture of patient safety, according to the Institute of Healthcare Improvement.

Learning About Communication in Nursing

A nurse with an associate degree knows the ins and outs of healthcare delivery, but there are some soft and hard skills that only a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program will cover.

In addition to learning more about the science behind healthcare and how to use research to advance your nursing practice, you can study communication styles in an online RN to BSN program — including how cultural background informs good communication with Arkansas State University’s Cultural Competence in Health Professions course, for example. The coursework also familiarizes students with SBAR and other nurse-physician communication approaches that help break down barriers and improve the healthcare environment.

Online RN to BSN Program

You can complete an online RN to BSN program in as little as twelve months if you already hold an associate degree. Further, an online program offers the convenience of flexible scheduling that accommodates the needs of working nurses. Online programs, in general, are also less expensive than on-campus programs.

Communication in a healthcare setting is vital, especially between nurses and physicians. The entire healthcare delivery process relies on information, and any breakdown in communication can negatively affect the quality of care.

Learn more about the A-State online RN to BSN program.


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