Top Patient Questions for Nurses

Patients place an extraordinary amount of trust in nurses, and communication is critical to developing this trust. In order to be a good nurse, you must also be a good listener. Most people look to nurses as wise authoritative figures who are their primary resources for information.  Nurses' answers to patient questions help patients understand what is happening as well as learn more about who is caring for them. Patients ask questions for a variety of other reasons. They may be curious and engaged in their care or perhaps worried, even terrified.

The Most Common Questions

Some patient questions are almost universal. Many nurses would agree that these are among the most common:

  • When can I see my doctor? Nurses may be trusted and respected, but most patients view their doctor as the authority for clinical answers.
  • When can I eat? Patients hospitalized for surgery cannot eat or drink beforehand, and once any residual nausea has passed, they're famished.
  • Can I have something for pain? Relieving physical discomfort is among the most important tasks of nurses, and they depend on patients to keep them informed of any comfort needs.
  • When can my family see me? Hospitalization is a tramatic event in most people's lives, and loved ones are the ultimate source of comfort.
  • When can I go home? Most patients want to leave the hospital as soon as possible, and want reassurance that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
  • Will it hurt? This is probably the most common question from children, as a child's fear of pain is especially acute. Adults dread it too, and want to know in advance if something is going to be painful.
  • What are my restrictions? Practically every patient discharged from a hospital leaves with instructions that may not answer all of the questions he or she may have. Can they go back to work? How much can they lift? How often should they dress the wound? When should they check in with the doctor?

Difficult Patient Questions

As a nurse, you may find yourself having to address difficult questions. Answers often require tact, accuracy, compassion, empathy and appropriateness.

  • What are my lab/exam/test results? In most cases, nurses are supposed to leave these answers to the ordering physician, unless he has instructed otherwise. If a patient may be expecting grave information, and the nurse knows all is well, he or she might carefully drop a reassuring hint to ease anxiety.
  • Am I dying? In most cases, news of terminal illness is a question best left to the doctor. However, if the patient clearly is going to be okay, they will often tell the patient this.
  • How badly am I hurt? Patients, especially those who have been in a trauma unit, may have undergone serious life changes. They may have become paralyzed, lost a limb or been diagnosed with a serious or terminal illness.
  • How do I file a complaint about you? No matter what you do, some patients will be dissatisfied. In these situations, be diplomatic and follow your facility's policies.  

Photo Source: Flickr

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Tags: nursing, patient care

Charles R. Hooper, MSW

About Charles R. Hooper, MSW

With over 20 years experience as a medical social worker and a master's degree in social work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I have been honored to dedicate most of my professional life to service in health care. I have worked in multiple medical/nursing settings, including cardiology, orthopedics, neurology, trauma care and others. I also founded the medical social work program at a regional trauma center and a very busy emergency department. View all posts by Charles R. Hooper, MSW →