Nurse-physician communication in the long-term care setting: perceived barriers and impact on patient safety

J Patient Saf. 2009 Sep;5(3):145-52. doi: 10.1097/PTS.0b013e3181b53f9b.


Purpose: Clear and complete communication between health care providers is a prerequisite for safe patient management and is a major priority of the Joint Commission's 2008 National Patient Safety Goals. The goal of this study was to describe nurses' perceptions of nurse-physician communication in the long-term care (LTC) setting.

Methods: Mixed-method study including a self-administered questionnaire and qualitative semistructured telephone interviews of licensed nurses from 26 LTC facilities in Connecticut. The questionnaire measured perceived openness to communication, mutual understanding, language comprehension, frustration, professional respect, nurse preparedness, time burden, and logistical barriers. Qualitative interviews focused on identifying barriers to effective nurse-physician communication that may not have previously been considered and eliciting nurses' recommendations for overcoming those barriers.

Results: Three hundred seventy-five nurses completed the questionnaire, and 21 nurses completed qualitative interviews. Nurses identified several barriers to effective nurse-physician communication: lack of physician openness to communication, logistic challenges, lack of professionalism, and language barriers. Feeling hurried by the physician was the most frequent barrier (28%), followed by finding a quiet place to call (25%), and difficulty reaching the physician (21%). In qualitative interviews, there was consensus that nurses needed to be brief and prepared with relevant clinical information when communicating with physicians and that physicians needed to be more open to listening.

Conclusions: A combination of nurse and physician behaviors contributes to ineffective communication in the LTC setting. These findings have important implications for patient safety and support the development of structured communication interventions to improve quality of nurse-physician communication.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Communication Barriers*
  • Connecticut
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Medical Errors / prevention & control
  • Middle Aged
  • Nursing Homes*
  • Physician-Nurse Relations*
  • Safety Management*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult