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Effective Communication Regarding Medication Administration

The following issues regarding effective communication are reviewed here:

  • Verbal communication
  • Barriers to verbal communications
  • Written communication
  • Personal characteristics contributing to effective communication

Verbal Communication

Being able to express yourself effectively (both verbally and in writing) is a communication skill you learned in your Nursing Assistant program. It is appropriate to review key skills here as you prepare for certification; you will use them throughout your healthcare career. Likewise, forming positive working relationships with your coworkers and building effective interpersonal relationships with residents are essential elements in effective Medication Aide practice.

Communication skills involve listening, looking, responding, and documenting what residents tell you about themselves and their unique needs. Active listening (that is, listening to residents without being distracted by your own thoughts) is key to acknowledging them as worthy human beings who deserve your attention.

Good verbal communication skills also include speaking clearly at a level residents can understand (that is, avoiding medical jargon), asking open-ended questions that discourage a yes/no response, using phrases to encourage further exploration of thoughts and feelings (“Oh?” “Tell me more,” and so on), and confirming the message you receive (“Let me see if I understand what you mean,” “Is this what I hear you saying?,” and so on).

Barriers to Effective Verbal Communication

Communication barriers can occur in practice. Try to avoid the following pitfalls when communicating with the resident: asking close-ended questions that prompt a yes/no answer, speaking “over the resident’s head,” using medical terms or other language that he or she cannot understand, or responding to him or her with advice/criticism/sarcasm. Responses to the resident that begin with “You should/shouldn’t...” or “why?” are not only demeaning but also encourage defensiveness and limit further communication. This reluctance to communicate can be hazardous for the resident and a detriment to an effective relationship with you.

It is important for you to recognize communication barriers that interfere with effective interpersonal relationships with residents and seek guidance and help from your supervisor to solve any communication problem you might encounter. Use an interpreter or family member to assist you in talking with the resident whose primary language is not English, and be patient with the resident who struggles to understand your language. Cultural barriers can also interfere with effective communication, especially if the resident’s culture is very different from your own. Nonverbal gestures like avoiding eye contact might be viewed by the resident as offensive or disrespectful. Other cues to barriers include personal space (for example, standing too close to the resident), smiling or other facial expressions that do not match the verbal message, your conversational tone, or body posture. For example, you might be smiling when talking to a resident, and that might imply your agreement. At the same time, however, you are standing with arms crossed over your chest and leaning away from the resident, a message that you, indeed, do not agree with him or her. At best, this message is confusing, if not disrespectful. Equally important to effective interpersonal relationships with residents is the need to maintain resident safety through clear communication. This is especially important when giving medications. Barriers to communication also include those linked with the senses (that is, vision, hearing, and other sensory deficits). Speaking clearly, slowly, and directly to the resident who is hard of hearing is important to ensure understanding of your verbal communication. Offering large-print reading material or other assistance to the resident who is visually impaired is equally important. Some residents have a decreased sensation to pain and temperature changes. Specific details about giving medications to impaired residents are included in later chapters.

Written Communication

Reporting conversations between you and residents during medication administration is also important to maintain their safety and well-being. This includes changes in their condition, specific requests, concerns or evaluations regarding their care, safety considerations, and any other pertinent observations.

Recording/charting all drugs you give is an important and appropriate function. Charting requires knowledge of medical terminology and abbreviations as well as proper spelling on all designated agency forms. The Medication Administration Record (MAR) is the most common communication tool and chart form in the resident’s medical record. Remember to follow all agency guidelines for recording on the MAR. Consult your supervisor for help with documentation to ensure completeness, objectivity, and accuracy.

Observation is the first step to ensuring resident safety, and you must report promptly to your supervisor any resident responses to the medications you give, other concerns that the resident might share, or any change in the resident’s condition. Remember, where client safety is concerned, you can never overcommunicate.

Other personal characteristics required for effective MA-C practice include the following:

  • Honesty, or truthfulness, is one of the most important qualities you can bring to your job. Second only to knowing your job well and being accountable for what you do is being truthful in your interactions with others. Accepting your own limitations is another example of being truthful. These attributes are essential to an effective and lawful practice.
  • Caring means having a sincere regard for the safety and well-being of all the residents in your care and being willing to care for them and about them. You can be the most skillful Medication Aide in the facility, but if you do not care about what happens to the residents, you are in the wrong job. In education, for example, we evaluate caring characteristics in our students in part by observing the time they spend with residents other than the time required to give care. Spending time with residents is only one way to evaluate caring behaviors, but it is an effective job-performance measure. These caring characteristics are the hallmark of the exemplary employee.
  • Being empathetic (that is, seeing yourself in others’ situations without pitying them) is also an important attribute you must possess. Consideration for other peoples’ feelings is also an important personal quality for effective practice. This means being aware of the effect of what you say and how you say it. Cooperating with coworkers to help support them and the facility when short-staffed is another example of being considerate.
  • Having respect for other people is important, especially when their values, culture, language, or beliefs differ from your own. Honesty, empathy, sincerity, and caring behaviors are all part of legal and ethical practice—basic but crucial expectations of your employer.
  • Dependability is a basic expectation of your employer. Coming to work when scheduled and on time demonstrates your commitment to your job and to the residents. Doing what you commit to do and doing so consistently also demonstrate your dependability.
  • Flexibility and dependability go hand in hand. Despite the best assignment plan, “stuff happens,” meaning you might be reassigned to another unit or group of residents or staff you do not know. You must be able to accept this normal disruption in your work schedule and make the best of the situation.
  • Accountability is a key quality you bring to your work. You must care for all residents in a variety of conditions and situations for which you have been prepared to handle and are expected to perform your duties in the way you have been trained to perform them. Should you have any questions or concerns about your assignment, discuss them privately with your supervisor.
  • Self-responsibility means that you are responsible for your own health and safety. Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), using safe body mechanics when positioning residents to take medications, maintaining a safe workspace, organizing your work to conserve energy, and maintaining a healthful lifestyle are examples of those actions you must take to protect yourself and promote your own well-being.
  • Conscientiousness (that is, having a careful attitude about your work and concentrating on your duties without distraction) is most important for safe and effective practice. This is a critical attitude where giving medications is concerned. A sloppy, careless attitude can harm clients and place your job in jeopardy. The nurse and client alike must be able to trust that you are serious about your responsibilities and that you have the clients’ best interests in mind in all that you do.
  • Being a team player implies working well with others; this is a hallmark of effective and efficient performance and will serve you well as a team member. Respecting each team member’s talents and contributions goes a long way toward making the residents’ lives meaningful, promoting a harmonious workplace environment, and making your work more fulfilling.
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