How to Build Trust for Better Nurse-Patient Relationships

A clinician comforting an elderly male patient
February 5, 2024

Building trust in nurse-patient relationships is a fundamental aspect of delivering exceptional healthcare. At the heart of this lies the understanding that such relationships are much more than mere interactions; they are pivotal connections that significantly influence patient outcomes. This trust-building involves communication skills, empathy, professionalism, and a deep commitment to patient-centered care.

What is a Professional Nurse-Patient Relationship? 

This relationship can be characterized by a therapeutic bond that puts the patient's well-being at the forefront. The professional nurse-patient relationship is a cornerstone of modern healthcare, representing much more than the traditional view of nurses as mere caregivers.

Nurses emerge as advocates, educators, and confidants in this evolved role, playing a crucial part in the patient's healthcare journey.

What Comprises the Foundation of the Nurse-Patient Relationship?

This relationship is founded on the pillars of trust, respect, and mutual understanding, elements that are essential for patient-centered care.

Active listening helps nurses excel in their roles and relationships with their patients, showing empathy and communicating clearly. These qualities ensure that the patient's autonomy is always a priority. 

Importance of Patient Engagement

By engaging with patients, nurses can understand their perspectives, respect their customs, value their inputs, and involve them in crucial care decisions, thereby personalizing the care experience.

Communication is Key

Good nurse-patient relationships are marked by seamless communication, where the registered nurse conveys medical information effectively and listens to and comprehends the patient's concerns and preferences. 

Nurses must demonstrate their effective interpersonal communication skills, including their tone of voice, whether or not they maintain eye contact, how they respect personal space, and how they approach or do not approach shared decision-making with the patient and family members regarding the treatment plan.

This two-way communication enhances the patient's involvement in their care, leading to better health outcomes and satisfaction with the care received.

On the other hand, poor nurse-patient relationships, often characterized by communication barriers, a lack of empathy, and minimal patient involvement, can have adverse effects. These can lead to misunderstandings, decreased patient satisfaction, and even negative impacts on the patient's health outcomes. Nurses must develop strong verbal and non-verbal communication skills and practice empathy in every interaction.

Nursing Professionalism

The professional nurse-patient relationship is pivotal in healthcare delivery. It requires a balanced combination of technical skills and emotional intelligence. Nurses can impact patient care and satisfaction by focusing on these aspects, reinforcing their critical role in the healthcare system. Understanding the characteristics of good and bad nurse-patient relationships is essential to focus on patient autonomy and proper nursing assessment.

Common Challenges to Building Trusting Relationships with Patients

In the complex world of healthcare, nurses routinely encounter numerous challenges that test their professionalism and empathy. 

Dealing with Difficult Patients

One significant challenge is dealing with difficult conversations or patients who may show signs of resistance or uncooperativeness. This behavior may originate from various sources, including fear, misunderstanding, or negative past experiences with the healthcare system. 

Patients in these scenarios require a professional and profoundly empathetic approach, as understanding their underlying concerns is critical to providing quality care.

Nurse Sensitivity and Compassion

Additionally, nurses frequently find themselves in situations that demand high sensitivity, such as delivering bad news or managing end-of-life care.

These scenarios require a delicate balance of professionalism and empathy, as they involve navigating complex emotional landscapes while providing the necessary medical support. 

The ability to communicate with compassion and understanding in these situations is crucial to ensuring that patients and their families feel supported and respected.

Effective Time Management

High patient-nurse ratios and heavy workloads are prevalent in many healthcare facility settings. These factors can severely limit the time nurses have to spend with each patient, which can, in turn, hinder the development of trusting, meaningful relationships.

Communication barriers

Effective communication is central to overcoming these challenges, yet it often comes with hurdles. Language differences, cultural misunderstandings, and the nuances of non-verbal communication can all create barriers to effective interaction. 

Nurses must match their verbal message with the situation while considering the mental health, emotional state, and cultural background of the patient. It’s especially important when discussing anything that can alter treatment options.

Overcoming these barriers requires a multifaceted approach, including cultural competence training, using interpreters when necessary, and an awareness of non-verbal cues. Technological tools such as patient portals and telehealth services can enhance communication, especially in scenarios with limited direct interactions between nurse and patient.

While nurses face many challenges in building and maintaining strong patient relationships, their role is crucial in delivering compassionate and effective healthcare. Addressing these challenges requires professional skills, empathetic communication, cultural competence, and innovative use of technology to enhance patient care and satisfaction.

How Nurses Can Build Trust with Patients 

Building trust in nurse-patient relationships is a nuanced process that necessitates maintaining healthy boundaries while leading with transparency. A delicate balance is crucial in establishing a professional and caring connection.

1. Understanding the AIDET Framework

Effective communication strategies are critical in this endeavor. For instance, the AIDET framework—Acknowledge, Introduce, Duration, Explain, Thank You—provides a structured interaction approach that fosters clarity and respect. 

This method ensures that patients are greeted warmly and informed about who is caring for them and what to expect, thus reducing anxiety and building trust. 

2. BATHE Protocol Considers Patient Personalities

Similarly, the BATHE protocol (Background, Affect, Troubles, Handling, Empathetic Statement) offers a guideline for delving deeper into a patient's personal and emotional experiences. By using these communication strategies, nurses can create an environment for open dialogue, allowing them to gain an understanding of their patients' experiences and concerns.

3. Nursing Handoffs Matter

Efficient nurse handoffs must be conducted to help ensure the continuity of care. More importantly, these plans should actively involve patients in the conversation, allowing them to feel included and respected in their care journey. This inclusive approach enhances patient engagement and empowers them in decision-making about their health. 

This also may foster a sense of autonomy.

4. Patient Education

Continuous care and education about health conditions and treatment instructions are essential in reducing hospital readmissions and emergency room visits. Patients may often have no prior experience with their care and may not understand some of the care protocols that nurses perform. Educating patients about their health conditions and involving them in their care can significantly improve health outcomes and build trust.  

5. Preventing Burnout

To further encourage patient engagement, nurses must ensure open communication channels and pursue professional development opportunities. 

Balancing workloads to prevent burnout is equally essential, allowing nurses to provide the best possible care to their patients. Additionally, fostering a team environment that recognizes the efforts of nurses can lead to improved nursing engagement, which in turn enhances overall patient engagement and healthcare quality.

6. Take Non-verbal Communication

Patient-centered care goes beyond verbal exchanges; it encompasses the realm of non-verbal communication as well. Even when not verbally responsive, patients can often still hear and perceive their surroundings. Taking note of the physical cues you're giving, as well as noting the cues the patient is providing can make it easier to soothe patient anxieties and gauge their level of comfort throughout the care process.

7. Treat the Patient as a Partner in Their Care Plan

Therefore, when done in the presence of the patient, efficient nurse handoffs play a crucial role. As stated in the conclusion of a study by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health:

"An equal distribution of power allows decisions about health and disease processes to be acquired by patients, autonomously, with the advice of professionals. The nurse-patient relationship should not pursue the change in values and customs of the patient, but position the professional as a witness of the experience of the health and illness process in the patient and family."

Including patients in these conversations makes them feel more involved and integral to their care plan. This practice enhances communication effectiveness and creates a sense of patient inclusion and partnership. This approach recognizes that patient care is a collaborative journey, where every verbal or non-verbal interaction contributes to the patient's sense of being valued and understood.

Building trust in nurse-patient relationships involves effective communication, inclusive care planning, continuous education, and a supportive work environment.  

Be the Difference - Build Better Patient-Nurse Relationships

To build better nurse-patient relationships, it's crucial to understand the dynamics involved, the challenges faced, and the strategies that can be employed to enhance trust and engagement. Continuous learning and adapting to new methods and technologies can significantly improve these relationships. 

When it comes to providing the highest quality of care, another essential nursing responsibility is the creation of an effective follow-through with nursing plans of care. To learn more—read our ultimate guide to care plans.


Sebastian Scott, DMD
Blog published on:
February 5, 2024

Sebastian, a Doctor of Dental Medicine and contributing copywriter at Nursa, grew up with an RN as a mother and a physician as a father. He specializes in nursing locations posts, healthcare industry news, and press releases. In his spare time, Sebastian is an avid backpacker and world traveler with a knack for journalism.

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