Communication is key to quality palliative care

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Good interaction and communication between the person and health care professionals establishes a relationship based on respect and empathy. This is important for effective communication to ensure care quality and continuity that optimises outcomes for the person and their family. 

The ability of nurses to tailor approaches to communication according to the audience and purpose is also important and will include communication with:

  • patients/clients, carers, and family
  • care team members
  • care organisations including management and peers.

There are two main types of communication that need to be considered:

  • verbal communication, that is, talking with the person or people involved
  • non-verbal communication, that is, unspoken cues such as body language and the physical environment, records, documents, and printed or electronic educational materials.

Compassion and good communication helps nurses to create a protective environment in which the person and their family can optimally deal with any emotional concerns associated with a life-limiting illness. Nursing communication has been described as the use of physical and interactive presence, active listening, silence, and therapeutic presence.

Communication is a core nursing skill. Interactions will depend on the nurses' role, experience, confidence, skills, ability, and whether enough is known about what is happening with a patient to embark on a detailed conversation. In the following sections we help you to explore these concepts and provide tips for practice according to audience and purpose.

Communication with patients, carers and families

Communication with patients, carers and families in palliative care includes supporting people through caring tasks and development of a therapeutic relationship to build trust, and a sense of solidarity and empowerment.

Within the care team

Communication within the care team facilitates the team’s capacity to provide comprehensive care with optimal collaboration. Communication is based on a common goal of quality care with the acknowledgement of the skill and understanding of other members of the interdisciplinary team.

Within the organisation

Communication within the organisation acknowledges the procedures and information channels in place across the organisation, privacy considerations, and the requirements of auditing and accreditation.

Conflict in communication

Conflict in communication can occur due to different perspectives of care, different patient goals, different values, different ethics, or different role expectations.

The human connection of palliative care: ten steps for what to say and do

Video from the Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC)

This information was drawn from the following resources:

  1. Anderson RJ, Bloch S, Armstrong M, Stone PC, Low JT. Communication between healthcare professionals and relatives of patients approaching the end-of-life: A systematic review of qualitative evidence. Palliat Med. 2019 Sep;33(8):926-941. doi: 10.1177/0269216319852007. Epub 2019 Jun 11.
  2. Clayton JM, Hancock KM, Butow PN, Tattersall MH, Currow DC, Adler J, et al. Clinical practice guidelines for communicating prognosis and end-of-life issues with adults in the advanced stages of a life-limiting illness, and their caregivers. Med J Aust. 2007;186(S12):S77-s105.
  3. Canning D, Yates P, Rosenberg JP. Competency Standards for specialist palliative care nursing practice (193kb pdf). Brisbane, QLD: Queensland University of Technology; 2005.
  4. Dahlin CM. Communication and palliative nursing [Internet]. In: Wittenberg E, Ferrell BR, Goldsmith J, Smith T, Ragan SL, Glajchen M, Handzo G, editors. Textbook of palliative care communication. New York: Oxford University Press; 2015. [cited 2022 Oct 10].
  5. Dahlin CM, Wittenberg E. Communication in palliative care: An essential competency for nurses [Internet]. In: Ferrell BR, Paice JA, editors. Oxford textbook of palliative nursing. 5th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2019. [cited 22 Oct 08].

Last updated 10 October 2022