Patient Satisfaction Planner

Nurse liaison must communicate well

Translate medicalese’ into plain talk

Nurse liaisons can quickly become highly appreciated members of your staff, say experts.

"The staff in the pre-op area see the nurse liaison’s interaction with patients and families as having a calming effect on the patient and family members, especially when there are delays, and [post-anesthesia care unit] nurses are relieved that the family is being taken care of so they can concentrate solely on the patient’s needs," explains Maureen Spangler, RN, CNOR, director of perioperative services at Lexington Medical Center in West Columbia, SC.

A nurse liaison is only beneficial if the right person is in the position, and not all RNs are right for a nurse liaison position, she warns. Excellent communication skills are essential, she points out. After excellent communication skills and solid perioperative knowledge, the next most important quality the clinical nurse liaison must have is the ability to work with people, including patients, families, nursing staff, volunteers, and physicians, Spangler says. "The nurse liaison must also be able to work under pressure and multitask."

The nurse liaison must be able to explain everything to the family members in everyday terms, says Lorraine Osborne, RN, CPN[C], perioperative clinical educator of Kingston General Hospital in Kingston, Ontario. "The liaison also should be comfortable talking to all types of people and able to deal with people who are very emotional," she adds. Liaisons should be able to communicate with people from a wide range of backgrounds, races, and socioeconomic levels, she adds.

Make sure your liaisons have the resources they need to do their job, suggests Spangler. "Give the liaisons the authority to use service recovery items such as gift baskets, meal tickets, or gift certificates when appropriate," she says. "It is a stressful role, and we have allowed them to identify ideas for service recovery based upon their own experiences."

For example, nurse liaisons were given beepers they can distribute to families if family members want to leave the facility, Osborne says. Another suggestion from the nurse liaisons was a cell phone for each nurse so they would be available at any time in any location, she explains. "They also make their cell phones available for patients or families to use if they need to make phone calls."

Don’t forget to offer education to liaisons that is pertinent to their position. "We had the nurses work with guest services for two weeks prior to beginning their role," explains Spangler. In addition to reviewing communications skills, nurses also spent time learning how to identify and handle the different ways in which people react to stress, she says.

"Some people withdraw and others become aggressive, so it’s important for the liaison to recognize these behaviors as stress-induced and talk with them in a manner that relieves the stress without taking their behavior personally," she explains.