Nursing home physicians and nurses struggle with communication barriers

Research Activities, June 2010, No. 358

Nurses and physicians must communicate effectively if patients are to receive high-quality care. However, there may be barriers to effective communication in the long-term-care setting, where nurse-physician interaction is often done over the telephone. A recent study identified several communication barriers in nursing homes, particularly related to telephone communication between nurses and physicians, that have important implications for patient safety.

Nurses working at 26 long-term-care facilities in Connecticut were asked to fill out a questionnaire. The 375 nurses responded to questions related to openness and collaboration, logistical challenges, professional respect and understanding, and language comprehension. A representative sample of 21 nurses who answered the questionnaire were also interviewed by telephone.

The communication barrier cited most often by the nurses was feeling hurried by the physician on the phone (28 percent). One-fourth of the nurses found it difficult to find a quiet location where they could make the call and 21 percent said they also had difficulty reaching the physician. Most of the interviewed nurses felt it was important to be prepared properly before making the call and to be brief and to the point when talking to the doctor. They also commented on how physicians were not always receptive to their calls.

The researchers recommend that physicians respect the nurses more and realize that nurses know their patients well. Calling nurses back promptly and listening properly would also help. In turn, nurses should be prepared when they call, state what is needed from the physician, and communicate clearly. The study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS16463).

See "Nurse-physician communication in the long-term care setting: Perceived barriers and impact on patient safety," by Jennifer Tjia, M.D., M.S.C.E., Kathleen M. Mazor, Ed.D., Terry Field, D.Sc., and others, in the Journal of Patient Safety 5(3), pp. 145-152, 2009.

Current as of June 2010
Internet Citation: Nursing home physicians and nurses struggle with communication barriers: Research Activities, June 2010, No. 358. June 2010. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.