10 questions every nurse should ask their patients

Want to be a more thorough, considerate nurse? Here are ten questions I believe can help us all communicate better with patients and keep us well-informed of our patient’s health!

1.What Should I Call You? How many times have you relied on the first name listed in the patient’s chart to address them? And how many people actually use their full given first name? Many patients don’t even bother correcting you, even when their name happens to be Fitzgerald – and they’re used to being called Jerry. So – ask them what they want to be called and start off on the right foot!

2. Who is Your Primary Care Provider? If you work in an inpatient hospital, what you do there is provide an important 10% or so of their total healthcare needs. The rest of the time is all outpatient. If you work at a specialist doctor’s office, in imaging, or wherever – the same goes. The PCP (a.k.a. family doctor) should be home base – and without regular visits, you’re throwing prevention and health maintenance down the drain! Visiting the PCP is for humans what an oil change is for cars – do it regularly or pay the price down the road!

3. Who Helps You At Home? Using the same line of thought as the last question: it’s so important to assess the patient’s ability to help themselves at home, whether physically or as a support system. Without this support – they’ll be right back in your facility soon.

4. What Makes You Say That? Remember when they taught you in nursing school not to start off questions with the word ‘why?’ Here’s the alternative you’re looking for. You can use it in almost any situation without sounding confrontational or accusational – just use the right tone, be genuinely interested, and listen well!

5. Are You Sexually Active? Sexual health still gets swept under the rug sometimes – and it shouldn’t be ignored. Most at risk are patients with mental illnesses – no matter how old or how young. But don’t let that keep you from breaching the subject with any patient. We keep patients safe – and unfortunately the truth is that safe sex is not always practiced!

6. Can You Repeat That Back To Me? Don’t ever overestimate your patients! The only way to really know if they really got what you told them is to have them repeat it back to you. Yes, it’s a bit awkward to ask. Yes, you might sound like your mother saying it. But just get used to doing it!

7. What Is Your Opinion On That? I like to ask patients this after the doctor finishes their conversation (or, if you get a chance, while the doctor’s still in the room!). This ensures the patient shares needed input on their own healthcare, or at least is able to voice it to the right people.

8. Are You Getting Dental Care? Don’t neglect the teeth! Untreated dental abscesses (a.k.a infections) can cause cardiac issues, GI problems, and make other infections worse. Think about it – it’s like constantly eating and swallowing infectious bacteria. Yuck!

9. Why Do You Take This Medication? If it’s not obvious, just ask the patient. Medications have different purposes and off-label uses – you might find out a diagnosis or important health history fact you didn’t know.

10. Would You Like To Try Doing It Yourself? Follow this up by offering to supervise and support while they independently help themselves. Sometimes we do too much – and end up working harder than our patients. It might take more time to watch them do it than just quickly having it done ourselves – but in the end it’s better for them. Tough love, tough nursing!

Kevin is a Psychiatric RN and feels like all he ever does is ask patients lots and lots of questions!

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