, Volume 17, Issue 5, pp 339-353
Date: 06 Jan 2009

Nurse-patient interaction and communication: A systematic literature review

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The purpose of this review is to describe the use and definitions of the concepts of nurse-patient interaction and nurse-patient communication in nursing literature. Furthermore, empirical findings of nurse-patient communication research will be presented, and applied theories will be shown.


An integrative literature search was executed. The total number of relevant citations found was 97. The search results were reviewed, and key points were extracted in a standardized form. Extracts were then qualitatively summarized according to relevant aspects and categories for the review.


The relation of interaction and communication is not clearly defined in nursing literature. Often the terms are used interchangeably or synonymously, and a clear theoretical definition is avoided or rather implicit. Symbolic interactionism and classic sender-receiver models were by far the most referred to models. Compared to the use of theories of adjacent sciences, the use of original nursing theories related to communication is rather infrequent. The articles that try to clarify the relation of both concepts see communication as a special or subtype of interaction.

The main intention of communication and interaction in the health setting is to influence the patient’s health status or state of well-being. Identified important structural factors of communication were: role allocation, different use of language and registers, and the nursing setting. The process of communication is often described with a phase model; communication often happens during other interventions and tasks. In general, influencing factors can be organized into the categories of provider variables, patient variables, environmental and situational variables.


The included citations all conclude that communication skills can be learned to a certain degree. Involvement of patients and their role in communication often is neglected by authors. Considering the mutual nature of communication, patients’ share in conversation should be taken more into consideration than it has been until now. Nursing science has to integrate its own theories of nursing care with theories of communication and interaction from other scientific disciplines like sociology.