How do nurses describe health care procedures? Analysing nurse-patient interaction in a hospital ward

George Major, Janet Holmes*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    14 Citations (Scopus)


    Objective Nurses' communication skills have a significant impact on their professional effectiveness. This study examines the communication strategies used by nurses on the ward in one aspect of the job, namely the ways that they describe health procedures to patients. Design and setting The data used in this project was collected by nurses on a busy hospital ward as part of Victoria University's Language in the Workplace Project. Three nurses carried minidisc recorders as they went about their normal working day, recording their conversations with patients, visitors, and other staff. Relevant sections of this talk (totalling 300 minutes) were transcribed and analysed using a discourse analysis approach, thus providing a sound basis for analysing the communicative act of describing a health procedure and for identifying a range of relevant sociolinguistic components of the interaction. Subjects The data was collected in a women's hospital ward. All patients, nurses, cleaners and ward clerks were female; two doctors were female and two were male. Results Twenty three instances where nurses described procedures to patients were identified in the data set. The analysis identified several typical components; indicated there was no fixed order of components; and demonstrated that all except the core component of describing the procedure were optional rather than obligatory elements. Conclusions This is qualitative and exploratory research. Our findings demonstrate the benefit of discourse analysis within a sociolinguistic framework for the analysis of nurse-patient interaction. The results indicate that health discourse is not one-sided, nor is it as straightforward as many nursing textbooks suggest.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)58-70
    Number of pages13
    JournalAustralian Journal of Advanced Nursing
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008


    • Authentic data
    • Describing medical procedures
    • Discourse analysis
    • Nurse-patient communication
    • Sociolinguistics


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