What Is SBAR in Nursing? (With Tips, FAQs, and Examples)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 9, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

In health care settings, it's essential to relay relevant patient information quickly, effectively, and clearly. As a nurse, you can consider using the SBAR technique to improve your communication skills and enhance interaction with physicians, patients, and other nurses. Understanding how to use the SBAR technique can help you communicate relevant information and improve health care services. In this article, we discuss SBAR in nursing, provide helpful tips, answer frequently asked questions, and review some examples.

What is SBAR in nursing?

SBAR in nursing involves using the situation, background, assessment, and recommendation (SBAR) technique when delivering nursing services. It allows nurses to communicate the elements of a patient's situation. This communication framework encourages fast response times, facilitates communication between team members, and ensures patients receive the best quality of treatment possible. The information that makes up the SBAR technique includes:

  • Situation: In this section, you provide a concise and simple description of the problem or situation, including the circumstance, how it happened, and the severity of the problem. Consider identifying important information such as the patient's name, your role in their care, room number, and unit.

  • Background: In this part, you provide relevant background information about the patient, such as their diagnosis, admission date and time, available lab results, vital information, and code status. In addition, if you have multiple lab reports, you can offer relevant details about changes in the time, date, and results of the previous tests.

  • Assessment: In this component, you give a professional diagnosis or summary based on the patient's background and situation. It's essential that qualified personnel performs these assessments.

  • Recommendation: In this section, you provide instructions for other health care providers on how to move forward with the patient's treatment. This step ensures that the patient receives the best care possible.

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Tips for using SBAR in nursing

Here are some tips to guide you when using the SBAR technique in your workplace:

Organize your thoughts

Before using the SBAR technique, it's essential to gather your thoughts and ideas to ensure you're providing only relevant information. For example, consider providing relevant information to the specific situation when including the background information. In addition, if you're on a call or don't have time to organize your thoughts, consider using bullet points to highlight the points you intend to include. Finally, it's advisable to think about any information the doctor may require and have it available. This information may include medication records, lab results, or the patient's chart.

Be clear and concise

The major objective of the SBAR technique is to eliminate irrelevant information that may alarm or confuse patients and other health care personnel. It's advisable to make a list as brief as possible while including all the necessary information. You may use the SBAR checklist to organize your facts and ensure they're relevant to the patient's current situation. In addition, if patients or other care providers require additional information, they may ask questions after you provide your recommendation.

Work together to create an action plan

In some cases, providing a recommendation or a course of action may require another person's input or expertise to help you make an informed decision. You may include a request for suggestions or tips on how to proceed in the last part of your communication. In addition, if you're unsure about making a recommendation, you can consider stating your concerns about the situation. Alternatively, you can consider making a suggestion as a starting point for deliberation.

Answer requests for additional information

Some patients or other health care professionals may have some questions after you communicate the patient's needs or situation. It's important for you to prepare answers to any additional questions. After providing the necessary information, it may be easier to highlight additional details.

Frequently asked questions about SBAR technique

Here are some frequently asked questions about the SBAR technique in nursing:

When do you use the SBAR technique in nursing?

It's suitable to apply the SBAR technique in various settings and scenarios. For instance, you can use it to begin patient care when a patient comes into a unit. You can also use the technique to communicate the patient's information to a new team when transferring them to a new care team. This technique is also relevant in the event of a crisis, like a situation that requires you to alert a physician about an emergency.

Generally, the situation, background, assessment, and recommendation technique improve communication among health care professionals, especially regarding patients' status. You can also use this technique to communicate in front of a patient, at the nurses' station over the phone, or when providing report briefings for new shifts.

What are the SBAR critical words?

As the purpose of the SBAR technique is to get another person to act, it's important that they treat the recommendation seriously. As a result, consider using critical words to convey the situation's urgency. Here's a list of SBAR critical words you can use:

  • Now

  • Must

  • Critical

  • Need

  • Important

  • Immediately

  • Quickly

  • Priority

  • Requires

  • At once

  • Instantly

  • Acute

  • Imperative

  • Vital

  • Essential

  • Urgent

  • Crucial

Who can use SBAR?

Although nurses primarily use this communication method, doctors may also use it when communicating with each other. For example, a general physician may use the SBAR technique to request information and advice from a specialist about their patient's situation. Other situations where health care professionals can use this method include:

  • Nursing assistants relaying information to nurses

  • Nurses communicating with physicians

  • Residents talking to attending physicians

  • Physicians communicating with other physicians

  • Nurses talking to other nurses

  • Nurses communicating with technicians

  • Pharmacists relaying information to physicians or nurses

  • Administrators communicating with physicians

What are the benefits of the SBAR technique in nursing?

The SBAR technique is a helpful method for nurses to communicate relevant details of delicate scenarios efficiently and quickly. It also ensures other health care team members receive important information in a timely and organized manner, accompanied by precise instructions on how to handle the situation. The SBAR technique can be an essential tool if you want to learn communication strategies.

Examples of the SBAR technique in nursing

If you want to implement SBAR in your workplace, here are some examples to guide you:

Example of nurses using the SBAR technique to communicate to a caregiver

A nurse provides the patient's next caregiver with a shift report. The patient's name is Jake. He's a 60-year old man that the paramedics brought to the ER after an accident. He sustained some minor bruises and scratches from the crash. In addition, the care staff has been checking him for signs of a possible concussion. Finally, after a few hours of observation, the nurses think Jake is ready for discharge.

Here's how nurses may use SBAR to communicate Jake's situation:

  • Situation: We admitted Jake Watson to the hospital at 10:00 a.m. over concerns of a possible head injury after a vehicular collision. Other than the concerns of a possible concussion, he has no major injuries.

  • Background: Jake appears alert and oriented since he woke up this morning. He's returning home under the supervision of his daughter, who can keep monitoring him.

  • Assessment: I assessed him and felt he doesn't have a concussion. The patient appears to be stable and ready for discharge.

  • Recommendation: I recommend we continue monitoring him for the next hour and prescribe over-the-counter pain medication before discharge.

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Example of a caregiver using the SBAR technique to communicate to a physician

Mariah Jones, a 70-year old patient, shows signs of cardiac arrest. Her caregiver wants to relay this information to the physician on-call. Here's how they may use SBAR in this situation:

  • Situation: "Dr. Smith, my name is Joy Bergeron, and I'm calling regarding your new patient, Mrs. Mariah Jones, from Hopkins Community Hospital. Mrs. Jones is complaining of chest pains and has difficulty breathing.

  • Background: Mrs. Jones had hip replacement surgery about a week ago. She started complaining of chest pain three hours ago. Her oximeter is giving erratic readings and cannot detect a consistent pulse. Here blood pressure is 128 over 54, and his pulse is 120. Her breathing also appears laboured.

  • Assessment: I believe the patient is experiencing pulmonary embolism or a cardiac event.

  • Recommendation: I recommend that you come to her room immediately for a proper assessment. Meanwhile, I intend to put her on oxygen. Do you agree?

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Example 3 of a nurse using the SBAR technique to communicate to a physician

A nurse provides the details of a patient who may be suffering from pneumonia to a visiting physician. Here's how they can apply SBAR in this scenario:

  • Situation: Mrs. Campbell arrived at the hospital this morning around 9 a.m. in an ambulance because she experienced rapid shortness of breath. She's 80 years old and presented with probable pneumonia. She's currently in a stable condition.

  • Background: The patient doesn't have a significant medical history. She's a casual drinker, non-smoker, and only takes antihypertensive medication. Her records have no cause for concern. Although she wasn't feverish and had a high white cell count when admitted. She recently returned from an international trip, but we think the possibility of a pulmonary embolism is low.

  • Assessment: Because of the patients' symptoms of chest pain, shortness of breath, and cough, we think she has pneumonia.

  • Recommendation: I recommend we repeat the blood tests, start her on a round of antibiotics, and administer a formal chest X-ray. Do you agree to this course of action?

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