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How Nurses can Communicate Better with Doctors

Nurse and doctor communicatingPoor communication among healthcare providers costs hospitals $12 billion annually, according to researchers at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Fortunately, even the smallest changes can save your facility money and help both patients and healthcare providers to have a better experience. Check out these tips for communicating better with doctors.

1. Rehearse what you’re going to say beforehand. If you’re a new nurse and get anxious when talking to a doctor about a patient, try saying what you plan to tell him or her out loud (or in your mind if you can’t find a private place). It may also be helpful the first few times at a new facility to role play with another nurse you trust so can plan out exactly what to say and don’t feel foolish or embarrassed when the doctor stops by.

2. Have the patient’s information handy when calling a doctor. Avoid getting flustered when the doctor asks about your patient’s bloodwork, vital signs, current medications and symptoms by having everything you need at hand when you call him or her. If you’ll be speaking to the doctor in person, knowing this information and being able to present it to him or her while you’re talking will help you seem competent and feel at ease.

3. Always identify your patient by name when speaking about him or her with the doctor. Some nurses assume that the doctor is already familiar with the patient or remembers him or her from a prior exam. Unfortunately, doctors see so many patients in a day and a work week that it can be hard to recall specific people — or they may be filling in for another doctor and might never have treated the patient before. Avoid all problems by clearly telling the doctor the patient’s name, why he or she was admitted and a brief update on their condition. Then ask if the doctor is familiar with the patient before giving more information.

4. Be courteous at all times when speaking with the doctor. In a stressful work environment, it can be easy for emotions to escalate and tensions to rise among doctors and nurses. Try to stay as level-headed as possible, especially when speaking to an angry or terse physician who’s criticizing you or is upset that you’ve called him or her again about a patient. Trust your intuition. It’s better to call a physician several times with questions than to have a patient get worse and be unable to care for him or her.

5. Develop relationships with doctors so you can help them better care for patients. While some doctors can be intimidating or, occasionally, cranky (especially if you wake them up to ask a routine question about a patient), it’s best to get to know them and cultivate a strong working relationship. They will quickly learn to respect you if you confidently explain why you’re contacting them and keep them informed about patients’ statuses — and you’ll learn which doctors want to be called at any time and which doctors prefer text messages or face-to-face interaction. Building relationships allows you to get the information you need and also help the doctor know how best to treat the patient.

Share your tips for communicating with doctors below — and check out this post for more ideas.

About the author


Lindsay Wilcox

Lindsay Wilcox is a healthcare writer and editor with more than 10 years of professional writing experience. When she's not circling typos, she's enjoying fish tacos and hanging out with her family.

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