01.03 Communicating with Family Members

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In this lesson I am going to explain the best way to communicate with a patient’s family members.

When communicating with family one of the most important items is to remember HIPAA. Just because they are family does not give them permission to know everything. So be aware of who has those rights. Where I work we get a good number of drug withdrawal babies. We get phone calls wanted updates or we have mother’s that have has custody removed and they call and try to pretend to be the designated caretaker to get information. This is when having a code word is helpful so information doesn’t go to the wrong person. You can always check with the patient to ask who has permission to get information and there are patient information sheets that give permission to certain individuals. And terminology is true for communicating with all non medical people. We don’t want to use medical jargon. They don’t understand our terms and abbreviations so make sure you avoid medical jargon and also check that they understand and answer any questions.

When dealing with family members keep in mind that their priorities might be different. So they might be more concerned with how the patient feels then the interventions that we need to do as priorities. So we need to communicate our priorities without discounting their concerns. So acknowledge their concern, explain what needs to be done and then how you will address what they are concerned with if you can. We’ve had patients come in who are too far along to get an epidural and they are of course screaming in pain and the father of the baby is of course in a panic and while he is thankful they made it to the hospital he is screaming about her being in pain and we aren’t taking care of that. So in these cases we acknowledge that we are aware she is in pain but she is going to have the baby and do great and this intense pain will be over. Or when I took care of hospice patients you would have the family members that were very concerned that the morphine was going to make their family member pass. So I would acknowledge that concern and let them know I completely understood but this process can be very painful for their family member and the morphine is used in many setting to help treat pain and that this will help relax them. Another communication piece with families that can be really helpful is to designate one family member as the one for us to talk to. So just ask the patient who they want that to be and then that one member can disseminate the information to the rest of the family so you don’t have to be repeating results and plan of care to everyone. I use to this with the hospice patients too. We would have one member of the family that would receive the phone call and then they could call the rest of the family. This was really important because of the timeline to call lifenet and have other items done after the patient passes.

Let’s look at some key points to review what we have discussed. When communicating with family members the biggest importance is to always ensure that HIPAA is maintained. Patient privacy is important! It is helpful to have one family member designated so that they can disseminate information and save the nurse from speaking to several people. Non medical jargon should be used so that the family members understand what is being told to them. And keep in mind that priorities of the family might be different then of the nurse. So don’t discount this.

Make sure you review the key points and practice incorporating these items into practice. Now, go out and be your best selves today. And, as always, happy nursing.
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