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Important Bedside Manners: What Patients Should Expect From Nurses

Higher Education Articles July 26, 2013

Bedside manners for nurses can be summed up in one simple question, “How would you like to be treated if it were you in the bed and as the patient?”

When the patients receive that same level of care, there is rarely any complaint about inadequate bedside care and problems are often minimized. Sometimes in the rush of too many patients and too little time the ideal can not quite be reached, but there are some basics that can be provide no matter the circumstances.

As a note, it is important to distinguish the emergency situation where the nurse must be totally focused on providing critically important care to the detriment of everything else. Bedside manners often take a far back seat in such times, and rightfully so.

More than anything else, patients want to be recognized as individuals – as people who are special and unique. A smile, a nodding of the head as eye contact is made, a “Hello” as you enter the room are all actions that speak to the heart of the patient without slowing you down. Calling them by name means to them that you acknowledge their personhood.

A patient should be able to realistically expect a caring nurse who is in love with and still enjoys their primary profession – making people well again, or providing comfort to those who are not going to get better. If a nurse has lost that first love, the joy in being a comfort to people, it will show in their bedside manner. Patients become only charts, pillows are perfunctory fluffed because it is a duty and not a way to make a patient feel better, and medicine is dispensed without regard to how the patient is feeling.

The list of the types of duties that are often labeled “bedside manners” is extensive. They include clearing the table, adjusting the bed covers, providing a bath, changing the linen, opening and closing the blinds, and providing fresh water. While some of these are also tasks for candy strippers and orderlies, they are not too much to expect a nurse to take care of while he or she is there.

A side benefit – but of major importance – to bedside manners is the reduction of secondary infections. A clean room, clean bedding, and baths will cut down on active germ colonies. It is not always true that a clean patient is a happy patient, but it is true that the cleaner a patient and surroundings are kept, the less chance they have of becoming sick.

But more so than mere physical acts, the real bedside manner should show up in your attitude towards the patient.

The patient is right to expect that you treat him or her with respect and courtesy. That you listen to his or her needs and anticipate them. That he or she and their family be kept informed as much as possible about his or her condition and what is happening to him or her. There is nothing wrong with keeping a formal relationship with patients, but formality should never get in the way of viewing them first as a person who needs your help to maintain his or her dignity, health and even his or her life.

Typically, the best clues to what bedside manners the patients want from you are provided by the patients themselves. If they approach you in a more formal manner it may indicate that they might prefer to be called Mr. Smith instead of John and that you remain Nurse Jones instead of Nurse Susan. Some people are unused to being cared for by others, and any time that you spend fussing over them actually makes them feel more uncomfortable.

No two patients are exactly alike, and your bedside manner may need adjusting to account for that. Some patients want to be involved with their medical care down to telling you where to set the IV, while others want it handled by the pros and have no interest in you engaging them in their own treatment. Asking questions, reading body language and observing their behavior under different conditions allows the experienced nurse to tailor the bedside manner to best fit the individual patient.

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