Nursing is a very important career in society. It is claimed to be the oldest of arts and the youngest of professions. Nurses remain an essential part of healthcare, serving their communities in many ways, the most common being providing patient care. They manage a patient’s physical needs, prevent illness, and treat health conditions. In addition to their role as clinicians, nurses also provide patient advocacy. That means they represent the interests of their patients and help them navigate the complex healthcare system. So, how exactly does a nurse step in to advocate for patients? This article gets into detail, explaining some of the ways nurses act as advocates every day.
Defining patient advocacy
Patient advocacy is a broad term. As we’ve mentioned, it can be generalized as representing the interests of those whose voices are not heard. That means nurses work with decision-makers like physicians and legislative bodies on behalf of those in need. Many circumstances call for a nurse to be an advocate. For instance, a nurse may encounter a mentally ill patient or one who is unaware of healthcare policies.
Notably, patient advocacy is mandatory in nursing practice and included in the American Nurses Association (ANA) Code of Ethics. Typically, patient advocacy has four steps:
- Evaluating a patient’s needs
- Identifying the patient’s goals
- Developing an advocacy plan
- Assessing the results of the advocacy
If this is something you are zealous about, you can start exploring steps to becoming a nurse practitioner. As a nurse practitioner, you will have extensive training to provide patient advocacy and other services to your patients. You will enjoy perks like the opportunity to make a lasting impact on patients’ lives and an impressive salary. Fortunately, you can enroll in a digital program and pursue your dream without neglecting your other responsibilities.
Types of advocacy in nursing
There are three major ways in which nurses can practice advocacy. The first one is acting as a mediator between patients and doctors. For instance, the nurse can speak up if a patient receives an inaccurate diagnosis. The second way is advocacy with the legal system. The nurse can lobby for better treatment, legal options, and payment solutions for their patients. Finally, a nurse can connect with a patient’s family. For instance, they can intervene when a family member is trying to make a decision that could harm the patient.
Ways you can advocate for patients as a nurse
Now that you understand what patient advocacy entails, let’s explore some of the ways to put it into practice.
- Ensuring patient safety
Nurses have the most direct contact with patients – more than any other healthcare professional. That puts them on the frontline when it comes to promoting patient safety. Since patient safety is multi-faceted, it helps to break it down into tangible tactics to minimize medical errors and improve patient outcomes.
One of those tactics is monitoring patients closely. A nurse has to be prepared to swing into action when a patient’s condition changes – which can happen in a split second. They can use technology, such as bedside alarms and medicine barcode scanning, to improve the quality of patient monitoring.
Another effective way of promoting patient safety is performing basic care and following checklists. Simple tasks like oral care, proper hand hygiene, and turning patients can make a huge difference. On the same note, nurses must adhere to evidence-based guidelines and protocols.
Nurses also promote patient safety by upholding medication safety. That means verifying the patient before administering medication and confirming the dose, route, and time. They must also adhere to strict infection prevention procedures, such as wearing personal protective gear and promptly reporting potential and actual infections to the infection control team.
Another crucial step in promoting patient safety is proper documentation and reporting. Nurses need to maintain records such as assessments, interventions, and outcomes. These help in informing future decisions.
Remember, patient safety is an ongoing effort. It calls for constant vigilance and commitment to continuous learning and improvement.
- Patient education
One of the explanations why nursing is such a rewarding career is that it provides endless chances to help others and grow as an individual. For instance, you can help patients by educating them. That way, you help them play a proactive role in their own care. Whether you are teaching a patient undergoing chemotherapy how to take anti-nausea medication or a new mom how to bathe her baby, you have to put the message across the correct way.
First, you need to understand the patient’s learning style, and this varies from patient to patient. For instance, one patient might be okay with reading materials, while another would prefer performing the procedure with your guidance. It would be best if you also stimulated the patient’s interest. Let them understand why learning is in their best interest. You might need to engage them by asking and answering questions for this step. This is particularly necessary right before discharging a patient. Ask them open-ended questions to see if they understood what you said. Asking open-ended questions is also an excellent way to understand a patient’s thoughts and concerns. It’s essential for you to take the patient’s strengths and limitations into consideration when educating them. For instance, a patient with visual impairment may require large print materials.
On the other hand, a patient with hearing impairment may require visual materials and hands-on methods. Additionally, it’s important to include family members in healthcare management. They can help ensure that your instructions are adhered to once the patient leaves the hospital.
It would also be a great idea to catch on what the patient already knows and correct any misinformation. Most importantly, use layperson’s terms, and begin education with every encounter of admission.
When providing patient education, you can leverage the power of technology. For instance, you can use technology to customize educational resources for your patients. You can also use technology to translate the resources into different languages.
- Acting as the patient’s voice
There are various situations where patients cannot speak for themselves. In that case, a nurse steps in as an advocate by giving them a voice. For instance, the nurse is the liaison between the patient and other healthcare professionals. Therefore, the nurse voices the patient’s fears, concerns, and preferences to other team members. The nurse also represents the patient regarding care planning and decision-making. Think of a scenario where the patient is fast asleep when it’s time to take the food order. The nurse can speak for the patient and tell the hostess what the patient prefers.
In the case of ethical dilemmas, the nurse steps in to ensure that the patient’s rights and autonomy are upheld. They can draw from their interactions with the patient to make the right decision. While the nurse cannot ethically make the decision for a patient, they can gather information from a patient to get a comprehensive understanding of the situation. They also participate in ethical analysis and deliberation with other healthcare team members to give their unique perspectives and expertise based on their interaction with the patient.
- Connecting patients to resources
A nurse can advocate for patients by connecting them to resources to support their healthcare needs. For instance, a nurse can tell a patient where they can find educational materials – say, a website, book, or podcast. Patients can use those resources to learn more about their condition, self-care techniques, preventive measures, and more to empower them. The nurse can also teach patients how to use various telehealth resources. For instance, the nurse can teach the patient to schedule an online appointment and request virtual assistance.
Nurses can also connect patients with community services and support groups they might not know about. They can receive services like counseling and financial assistance to enhance their well-being. Additionally, nurses usually work hand in hand with social workers and case managers, who can assist patients in accessing social services like housing and food assistance. Similarly, if a patient requires home health services, such as occupational therapy and rehabilitation, a nurse can connect them to these services. The nurse also plays a crucial role in facilitating referrals if the patient requires specialized care or consultations.
- Protecting a patient’s rights
The American Medical Association (AMA) Code of Medical Ethics lists patients’ rights, such as asking questions, getting a second opinion, and being treated with dignity, respect, and courtesy. While these guidelines cut across all healthcare sectors, nurses play a critical role in enforcing them. For instance, according to provision 2 of the ANA Code of Ethics, nurses’ primary commitment is to patients. Therefore, they are mandated to respect a patient’s dignity.
Skills needed to be a good patient advocate
As you’ve seen, patient advocacy is comprehensive. You need particular skills to advocate for your patients effectively. Let’s take a look at some of the most crucial advocacy skills:
Communication is perhaps the most essential skill when it comes to patient advocacy. As a nurse, you must articulate the patient’s needs to relevant team members. You also need to pass information to the patient effectively. For instance, you need to gauge their education level to determine your language choice. You also have to put cultural factors into consideration when communicating so that you can put a patient’s needs into context.
You also need to demonstrate active listening skills. That way, a patient can feel heard, which goes a long way in building trust. Additionally, you need other skills like report writing and presentation skills, which help you present issues to authorities to improve patient outcomes.
- Empathy and compassion
When a nurse is compassionate, they can be empathetic to the pain and suffering of their patients. That’s an essential step in advocating for their best interest. That means the nurse needs to understand and share a patient’s viewpoints without judgment. When the nurse is empathetic, they can establish respect, encourage positive behavior and attitudes, and make ethical decisions.
You might wonder, “What if I’m not a natural empath?” That doesn’t mean you can’t advocate for your patients as a nurse. While some people are born natural empaths, it is a skill anybody can learn. You can actively practice empathy by seeking new perspectives and experiences, connecting emotionally with people, and acknowledging your biases.
- Critical thinking
As a nurse, you will encounter complex situations in your day-to-day work. In times like those, you need to think critically to ensure you don’t compromise your patients’ interests. Critical thinking skills will help you recognize and navigate ethical dilemmas. You can also identify gaps in healthcare and address them with management.
- A strong foundation of knowledge and expertise
Advocacy has to come from a place of knowledge and expertise. As a nurse, you need an extensive understanding of treatments and evidence-based practices. You can gain up-to-date knowledge by attending seminars and conferences in your field. Healthcare facilities can also organize training and workshops to ensure their employees are well-versed with current innovations. We mentioned that advocacy is continuous. Therefore, you have to be prepared for lifelong learning. Healthcare is evolving rapidly, but continual learning helps you provide your patients with the highest standard of care.
Being an advocate means having to challenge inappropriate or unsafe practices sometimes. Therefore, you have to be assertive and confident. Assertiveness also comes in handy when communicating with patients and healthcare team members.
- Collaboration and teamwork
Advocacy requires collective effort. As a nurse, you have to be a team player to ensure that the healthcare team takes care of your patients’ needs holistically.
The link between ethics and advocacy
It’s impossible to separate ethics and advocacy strategies. In all circumstances, a nurse practitioner must adhere to the ethical code of conduct. The two might collide sometimes. In that case, it would be advisable to consult with a nurse leader or other team members to determine the best way forward. However, a nurse should be prepared to challenge higher authorities to defend the patient’s needs, even when it seems complicated.