Communication is important in all aspects of nursing, whether with patients, health professionals or colleagues.

Good communication at the end of a patient’s life involves the ability to both give and receive information at a time where strong emotions and stress can affect even the most experienced clinician.

It is important that patients have the information that they need to enable informed decision making and that clinicians clearly understand patient and family preferences in developing goals of care:

  • For patients and families, the amount of information required can change with their circumstances. When someone is seriously ill, there will be many things that need to be discussed, some of which will be difficult and emotive
  • For health professionals, having as much information as possible from the patient is vital to ensure any plans and decisions are inclusive and that staff are advocating appropriately for them. Active listening (158kb pdf) is a skill that can enhance this important process.

Communication works best when it is open and sensitive as well as appropriate to the situation and applies to both nurses and patients. [1]

Unfortunately there is no formula to direct what to say or how to say it. Working with, seeking advice from, or observing more experienced colleagues communicate (such as Social Workers, Bereavement Counsellors and Pastoral Care Workers) is one way to learn.


Related Evidence

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  • Related palliAGED pages:
  • The International Network for Cancer Treatment and Research (INCTR) has produced an online version of their Palliative Care Handbook. It has information on Communication.

Competencies / Training

Guidelines / Documents / Factsheets


  • A video: Palliative Care and the Human Connection: Ten steps for what to say and do when talking about palliative care. Although directed at medical staff it may be of interest.

Relevant Studies

Last updated 20 March 2019