Factors affecting effective communication between registered nurses and adult cancer patients in an inpatient setting: a systematic review

Li Hui Tay, Desley Hegney, Emily Ang
International Journal of Evidence-based Healthcare 2011, 9 (2): 151-64

AIM: To establish the best available evidence regarding the factors affecting effective communication between registered nurses and inpatient cancer adults.

METHOD: Electronic databases (CINAHL, Ovid, PubMed, ScienceDirect, Scopus and Wiley InterScience) were searched using a three-step search strategy to identify the relevant quantitative and qualitative studies published in English. The grey literature was not included in the review. The identified studies were evaluated using the guidelines from the Joanna Briggs Institute System for the Unified Management, Assessment and Review of Information. A total of three studies were included in the quantitative component of the review, and the data were presented in a narrative summary. Five studies were included in the qualitative component of the review, and the findings were categorised in a meta-synthesis which generated four synthesised findings.

RESULTS: The factors that were found to influence effective communication were identified in the characteristics of nurses, patients and the environment. The promoting factors in nurses included genuineness, competency and effective communication skills. The role of post-basic training in improving nurse-patient communication remained inconclusive. Conversely, nurses who were task-orientated, who feared death and who had low self-awareness of their own verbal behaviours inhibited communication. Nurses were also observed to communicate less effectively when delivering psychosocial aspects of care and in emotionally charged situations. On the other hand, patients who participated actively in their own care and exhibited information-seeking behaviour promoted communication with the nurses. However, patients' unwillingness to discuss their disease/feelings, their preference to seek emotional support from their family/friends and their use of implicit cues were some of the factors that were found to inhibit communication. A supportive ward environment increased facilitative behaviour in nurses, whereas conflict among the staff led to increased use of blocking behaviours. Cultural norms within the Chinese society were also found to inhibit nurse-patient communication.

CONCLUSION: Within the constraints of the study and the few quality papers available, it appeared that personal characteristics of patients and nurses are the key factors that influence effective nurse-patient communication within the oncology setting. Very little evidence exists to explain the role of environment in effective nurse-patient communication, particularly within an Asian setting.

IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: Training can be implemented to inform nurses about the communication challenges, to equip them with effective communication skills and improve their receptivity to patient cues. Information-sharing can be used as a non-threatening approach to initiate rapport-building and open communication. Nurses should consider patients' psychological readiness to communicate and respect their preference as to whom they wish to share their thoughts/emotions with. Hospitals/institutions also need to ensure a supportive ward culture and appropriate workload that will enable nurses to provide holistic care to patients.

IMPLICATIONS FOR RESEARCH: Further research on the effect of the Asian culture on effective communication within the oncology setting is required to expand the knowledge in this area. Studies to ascertain the effect of the patient's age and place within the oncology treatment cycle are also warranted. The lack of evidence on the effectiveness of post-basic communication education also requires further investigation.

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