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Keywords:

  • augmentative and alternative communication;
  • complex communication;
  • nurses;
  • nursing;
  • systematic review

Aims and objectives.  To systematically review the research regarding communication between nurses and patients with complex communication needs (CCN). The research was reviewed with respect to the following themes: (a) the importance of communication; (b) the barriers to effective communication; (c) the supports needed for effective communication; and (d) recommendations for improving the effectiveness of communication between nurses and patients with CCN. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) strategies that can be used by nurses to facilitate more effective communication with patients with CCN are discussed.

Background.  Effective nurse-patient communication is critical to efficient care provision. Difficulties in communication between nurses and patients arise when patients are unable to speak. This problem is further complicated because nurses typically receive little or no training in how to use AAC to communicate with patients with CCN.

Design.  Systematic review.

Method.  This paper reviewed the published research focusing on the perspectives of nurses, patients with CCN and their caregivers regarding the challenges to effective communication between nurses and patients with CCN. Further, specific strategies (i.e., using AAC) that nurses can use to improve and facilitate communication with patients with CCN are provided.

Conclusions.  Communication between nurses and patients is critical to providing and receiving quality care. Nurses and patients have reported concern and frustration when communication is not adequate. Using AAC strategies will help nurses and patients better communicate with each other when speech is not an option.

Relevance to clinical practice.  Communication with all patients is very important to the provision of quality nursing care. Communication cannot always be achieved using the speech modality. Nurses need to have tools and skills that will allow them to communicate with all of their patients whether or not they can speak.