Patient Communication Strategies for COVID-19 Conversations
Rebecca Collins, MS, RN, OCN®, CHPN, NECP, NE-BC

We are oncology nurses. We don’t shy away from hard discussions. We have the skills and tools to help others. But this pandemic is different. The COVID-19 coronavirus has changed the rules. It’s ushered in social distancing, limited contact, and induced a new level of panic. COVID-19 doesn’t care if you are a nurse or a patient. It is an equalizer between us all.  

So how can we navigate a healthcare emergency that is changing the landscape of care almost minute by minute? How do we approach our patients, some of whom may be positive for COVID-19, with humanity and compassion?  

Use a Playbook to Guide You 

Our world right now needs effective communication, and a Seattle-based nonprofit company called VitalTalk is guiding healthcare professionals in navigating the range of atypical conversations we now face with its COVID-Ready Communication Skills playbook.  

As oncology professionals, we may have already been sought out by teammates for advice on communicating with compassion and supporting a patient’s choices. However, during COVID-19, those conversations can be rapid fire and may come at a time we as nurses are struggling with our own concerns and fears.  

VitalTalk uses an evidence-base model for effective patient-clinician communication, and its research is funded through the National Institutes of Health. COVID-Ready Communication Skills gives healthcare providers scenarios and strategies that draw on past experiences to communicate with patients during the pandemic, and it also provides nurses with options for self-care support during a time of constant crisis.  

How to Apply It to Practice 

Navigating patient care during the COVID-19 pandemic is constantly demanding. The COVID communication playbook recommends grounding and centering ourselves so we can sustainably provide quality care: 

  • Before you go in to see a patient, take a moment for one deep breath. 

  • When explaining options to patients, share what you are concerned about so you can decide what is best together 

  • Share each step in the process with patients. 

  • Look for moments every day where you can connect with someone, share something, and enjoy something. 

  • Analyze and take stock of your emotions throughout the day. Can you accept them and then determine what you need? 

  • Ask yourself: Can I step into a more balanced mindset even as I move into this next responsibility? 

  • Know you can rely on your team: we are here to support each other. 

We have little knowledge of what lies ahead for all of us. But we as medical professionals understand the need to find the words and actions that will be enough to bring a sense of security to our patients, our teammates, and ourselves.