The relationships that nurses form with their patients are critical to positive health outcomes. Research indicates that those relationships represent a vital component of good care and can even be therapeutic to patients, as noted in a 2021 article in the journal BMC Nursing.
Building patient rapport is an important part of every nurse’s job. But nurses face many competing demands for their time and attention, and forming relationships with patients, is not always easy.
Individuals who may be considering furthering their nursing careers through an advanced nursing degree program can benefit from learning more about one of the most fundamental ways to strengthen healthcare: building strong rapport with patients.
What Is Patient Rapport?
Quality nursing care depends on nurses establishing good rapport with patients. But nurses need to understand what patient rapport is before they can work to establish it.
Think of patient rapport as the connection a nurse establishes with a patient. The foundation of that connection is based on qualities such as empathy, acceptance, respect, and a commitment to engage, according to a 2021 article published in the journal JMIR Research Protocols.
Building relationships with patients is not merely something nurses should do when time permits; the American Nurses Association’s code of ethics requires it. Specifically, nurses are required to establish trusting relationships with their clients. The code of ethics also requires nurses to consider factors such as a patient’s cultural background, spiritual beliefs, value system, and language when planning their care. Nurses need to weave these considerations into the approaches they use to build rapport with their patients.
Why Building Patient Rapport Is Important
Building rapport with patients is important because it can benefit many aspects of healthcare. Research shows that good patient rapport can:
- Decrease the length of a patient’s hospital stay and improve the patient’s and the nurse’s satisfaction, according to a 2020 article in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
- Improve patients’ health, increase patients’ feelings of empowerment, and boost patients’ feelings of confidence and security, as explained in a 2022 article in the journal Collegian
- Strengthen patients’ compliance with their treatment plans, as noted in a 2021 article in the journal Clinical Medicine
With the potential to offer so many benefits, building patient rapport is not an obligation nurses can overlook. Despite their workloads and the stresses of the job, nurses need to invest in establishing patient rapport, both for their patients’ benefit and their own.
8 Ways Nurses Can Build Patient Rapport
Nurses know they need to build rapport with patients, but occasionally they may struggle with how to do it. The suggestions below are examples of strategies nurses can employ to help ensure they establish good rapport with their patients.
1. Get to Know Patients Personally
Getting to know their patients is one of the most fundamental strategies nurses have for building patient rapport, according to medical staffing firm Premier Medical Staffing Services. Nurses can begin by asking their patients questions that are open-ended and stimulate conversation. For example, while conducting routine responsibilities, nurses might ask patients how they are feeling or inquire about what patients might do after they are feeling better. Questions like these also demonstrate that nurses care about their patients, and the answers to these questions can provide the basis for subsequent conversations.
2. Practice Active Listening
Practicing active listening is a good strategy for nurses because it allows patients to feel that nurses take their concerns seriously, as detailed in a 2022 report in Nursing Times. When a patient believes a nurse is listening closely to what they are saying, they are likely to be more comfortable expressing their perspectives. To employ active listening, nurses should:
- Focus on patients as they are speaking, and reflect on what they say or ask for clarification when necessary
- Maintain eye contact with patients
- Withhold judgments about what patients say
- Summarize and paraphrase what patients say
- Avoid the temptation to fill silent moments with their own words
3. Educate Patients
One of the best skills in nursing is the ability to educate patients about their health. Educating patients is also another way nurses can establish rapport with their patients. When educating patients about their health, a number of considerations are important, according to MedlinePlus. For example, nurses should consider patients’ readiness to learn, their learning preferences, and any potential barriers they may have to learning about health matters. To get the best results, nurses should create an education plan with the patient, decide on the objectives of the education with the patient, and select the educational materials that work best for the patient.
4. Minimize Jargon
In the course of a busy day, nurses may sometimes inadvertently use medical jargon, acronyms, or technical terminology when speaking to patients. Remembering to use plain language with patients is crucial to communicating effectively with them, according to a 2021 report in American Nurse, and good communication is an important part of strong rapport. Choosing phrases with the fewest words and words with the fewest syllables can help nurses ensure patients develop an understanding of their health conditions and their care plans.
5. Make Sure Needs Are Being Met
Ensuring nurses meet patients’ needs is not only common sense, it is also one of the hallmarks of patient-centered care, as a 2021 article in the Journal of Education and Health Promotion noted. To be able to meet a patient’s needs, nurses must first identify and monitor those needs. Then, in addressing the patient’s needs, nurses must remain flexible and respond in a manner that is consistent with the patient’s personal, spiritual, and cultural values. In addition to addressing physical needs, nurses also should be mindful of each patient’s social, cognitive, and emotional needs.
6. Ensure Coordination of Care
Doing what they can to coordinate patient care across providers and healthcare settings also can help nurses strengthen patient rapport. Better attention to care coordination can result in improved relationships with patients, according to a 2020 article in the journal Canadian Family Physician. For example, care coordination can help to:
- Build a relationship of trust with patients
- Ensure providers meet patients’ needs
- Strengthen communication between providers and patients
7. Be Respectful
Treating them with respect is one of the most basic ways to build rapport with patients. A variety of approaches can help to demonstrate respect, as a 2021 article in the journal PLOS One explained. For example, nurses can:
- Be intentional about showing respect in every patient interaction
- Be transparent and honest during all interactions with patients
- Engage with patients, demonstrate empathy, and answer patients’ questions
- Explain the steps in a patient’s care
- Ensure that the organization for which they work incorporates respectful practices into their policies and procedures
8. Actively Assess Patient Satisfaction
Soliciting feedback and patient satisfaction information by conducting post-visit surveys can provide helpful insights into how to improve the patient experience and patient rapport. Feedback can range from small items, such as the need to modify the temperature in a healthcare facility, to larger needs in areas such as staff training, as a 2022 report in Medical Economics noted. Of course, acting on this feedback is important, so patients believe that their opinions matter.
Patient Rapport: A Cornerstone of Nursing Practice
Building rapport with patients is a critical component of the nursing profession. When nurses have good rapport with their patients, not only do the patients feel more comfortable and engaged during their interactions with the nurses, they’re more likely to experience positive health outcomes. Establishing and maintaining strong patient rapport is something that nurses who aspire to advanced positions must continue to keep in mind as their careers progress.
Nurses interested in enhancing patient care and advancing their careers can explore Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program to see how the program can help them achieve their goals. Offering five concentrations, the program can open the door to new aspects of nursing practice. Get started on your journey to advanced nursing today.