Boost Your “High-Touch” Nursing Skills

We hear so much about technology in healthcare today, and we know firsthand that nursing becomes increasingly more high-tech every year. Technology plays a role in direct patient care activities (automatic monitoring of vital signs, programmable infusion pumps, etc.) and in patient safety initiatives (bar coding, computerized order entry for medications). It is increasingly available right at our fingertips, as we use smartphone apps for a variety of purposes and access the EMR through tablets, and laptops.

There’s no doubt that technology is transforming the way we deliver care. But one thing technology can never do is replace nurses entirely. No matter how much easier it makes our job as nurses, technology can only work for patients when it’s combined with highly competent, relationship-based care. And this is why we must be sure to maintain our “high-touch” skills as well. As patient advocates and frontline caregivers, nurses must ensure that new and emerging technologies do not detract from the human element in healthcare.

High-touch skills aren’t limited to the times we physically touch a patient for comfort or healing. They include everything we do to figuratively touch patients’ lives, or the lives of their caregivers and family members. Some examples are:

  • Communication and interpersonal skills
  • Cultural sensitivity
  • Empathy and emotional support
  • Patient advocacy
  • Patient and family education – regarding medications, managing chronic illness, etc.

Patient suffering isn’t limited to physical pain; it can take on a mental, emotional, or psychological component as well. A patient hospitalized for a long time might suffer from loneliness, social isolation, or a feeling of powerlessness. A dedicated nurse can use high-touch skills to help: finding time to sit down for a chat; encouraging a family member to bring photos or other items from home; moving the patient to a lounge or garden when possible and appropriate; or making sure the patient has easy access to the phone, reading material, TV, etc.

Too often, the healthcare system breaks down, exposing our patients to poor communication, excessive wait times, uncertainty, medical errors, or a poorly coordinated care transition. We can—and should—use our high-touch skills to minimize bad experiences for our patients.

High-touch nursing skills are important in building therapeutic relationships, which have the power to influence outcomes and translate “caring” into “curing.” This is backed up by research. Consider the following examples:

  • Receiving emotional support and information from a nurse navigator can help cancer patients adjust to their diagnosis and treatment. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that patients supported by a nurse navigator reported fewer problems and rated their care higher than patients without similar support.

  • Patient satisfaction, which is now a factor in Medicare reimbursements, is also influenced by the nurse-client relationship. Press Ganey Associates, a company that evaluates health care performance, has identified “Nurse Communication” as the factor with the greatest impact on patient ratings of their overall hospital experience and likelihood to recommend the hospital.

  • In oncology, nurses can use interpersonal and interventional skills to help patients manage difficult side effects. A study in Cancer Nursing found that a simple 10-minute foot massage has a “significant, immediate effect of the perception of pain, nausea, and relaxation.”

  • Among psychiatric patients, the quality of nurse-patient interaction has been shown to influence medication compliance, according to a report in Psychiatric Nursing.

  • A survey of attitudes toward palliative care in the U.K. revealed that patients and nurses alike “agreed that the two most important characteristics of an expert palliative care nurse were interpersonal skills and qualities such as kindness, warmth, compassion and genuineness.”

As technology revolutionizes healthcare, we have to make sure the high-tech does not displace our much needed high-touch skills. In tech-heavy areas like the ICU, it’s far too easy to get so focused on the ventilators and the beeping monitors that we forget the human needs of our patients and their families. And in cutting-edge, high-tech telehealth situations, where communication does not happen face-to-face, we’ll have to figure out ways to cultivate strong nurse-patient relationships. Taking time to connect with your patients, to educate them and advocate for them, can elevate you from a good nurse to a great nurse.

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