It’s no secret that healthcare is ever-changing in all aspects, for better or for worse. Even with technology advancing, hospitals are reaching capacity quicker and healthcare costs are rising, while staffing needs are increasing as baby boomers retire. This all easily translates to nurses having to take on more responsibilities.
As this happens, our ability to individualize care and advocate for the patient is becoming compromised. We must remember that we are the voice of our patients and must take all steps to prepare to fully care for our patients.
Below are some examples of how we can best advocate for our patients every day:
Care for Ourselves
We need to make sure we aren't coming to work exhausted or distracted. Medical errors happen much easier when we are not fully rested or our mind is elsewhere. It’s important that we take our breaks, even when we feel that we don’t have time. Also, there are a lot of times we skip meals while we're at work because we feel bombarded and as though, “we don’t have time”. Truth is, we are always going to feel overwhelmed and as though there’s no time to spare.
However, remember we simply can’t think and perform 100% when our bodies are malnourished. Remind yourself throughout the day to take breaks when needed, even if it's for 5 minutes. You’ll come back to the job with a clear mind and more concentration. Also, I find it best to try to keep a small snack always handy and force in a quick snack in 60 seconds if I have to. “You can't pour from an empty cup.”
Double Check Orders
It’s safe to say that we all make mistakes. It’s imperative that we check all of our orders for validity and not just act on them. The person that wrote the order may have placed it for the wrong patient or even be exhausted from lack of sleep.
Don’t feel bad about questioning the doctor or pharmacy. Instead, just clarify and use it as a learning opportunity.
Most patients don’t understand the medical jargon that is used in the hospital. Because staffing is limited and acuity is high, you’ll notice doctors not spending much time with patients. They will come in the room, diagnose a patient, ask if there are any questions, then leave.
The patient probably didn’t ask any questions because they didn’t have time to process the information, or they may have felt rushed. Make it known to the patient that you are there to answer any concerns that they have. Build a rapport with them so they know they can come to you for clarity and advice.
Be Present for Consent
I have experienced many times that doctors get consent without the nurse being in the room. This relates to the previous bullet point - the patient simply didn’t have enough time to process the information before signing a consent form. Try to always be present when the doctor is explaining a medical procedure.
You want to be able to interject if the patient needs more explanation or is skeptical about signing. Be tactful with the situation, but ultimately you are there for the patient over the doctor's schedule.
Case management and social work are also bombarded just like the nurses. They typically don’t see patients unless there is a specific need or special request. The nurse must be attentive to the patient’s needs and background information. Patient’s may not openly share personal information or struggles. We should investigate the situation clearly to see if the patient could benefit from any hospital resources they may be unaware of.
Additionally, we should always provide education for the patient to go home with. Even if the patient understands the medical diagnosis, print them a guide to take home. This way they'll have it on paper to reference, as needed, and can share the information with their family or caretakers. Don’t be afraid to share any other resources that you feel may be beneficial. If your patient likes to get massages, you could share your favorite therapists in the area. Be personable with your patients and build trusting relationships with them.
Be a Friend
Most importantly, be kind and genuine with your patients. No one wants to feel like they are just a number in the system. Spend time with them and apologize when you're unable. Ask questions and get to know them on a deeper level. Once you build a rapport with them, they will trust you and seek education from you. This will make your day go smoother and I’m sure it’ll make their visit feel less stressful.
When I do my morning med pass, I always ask the patient what they do for a living or what hobbies they enjoy. This sets the foundation for conversations for the rest of the day and allows for open dialogue. Always remember it's a difficult time in their lives and they need all the positive energy you have to give.