Being in hospital is a challenging time for the patient. They may be feeling unwell, in pain, frightened, and confused. As a patient they must trust in the healthcare professionals that they will receive the best care. However, in a busy hospital they may see different professionals with inadequate time to discuss their case, making it hard to make informed choices. Nurses are often the ones who provide the greatest continuity of care and, as such, are best placed to take on the role of the patient advocate.
An important responsibility
The third provision in the American Nurses Association (ANA) Code of Ethics for Nurses states that “the nurse promotes, advocates for and protects the rights, health and safety of the patient”, emphasizing its importance in the role of the nurse,
Guidance on exactly what that means will be part of the training of new nurses. If nursing is a career that interests you, training is widely available in universities and through high-quality online courses. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, the training can be completed quicker than you expect. The hybrid accelerated BSN program at the University of Indianapolis can be completed in as little as fifteen months, including 100% online coursework, a campus residency, and clinical placements in your local area.
Keep patients safe
One way that nurses advocate for patients is by keeping them safe throughout their hospital visits. This may include making sure handovers at the ends of shifts are carried out thoroughly with the next nurse fully up to date or ensuring doctors’ instructions are clarified. Nurses may continue to advocate for patients beyond their hospital stay if they need to liaise with social care or community nurses for ongoing treatment.
They also need to help patients feel safe. In an unfamiliar environment, perhaps experiencing frightening procedures, nurses can be there to provide reassurance to understandably nervous patients.
Support patient autonomy
Patients are encouraged to be active participants in their care, and nurses can assist them in maintaining their autonomy. If a patient requires a second opinion, a nurse can facilitate that. Sometimes a patient may want to delay a decision while they discuss a situation with family or refuse a treatment a physician has recommended. Nurses can support this, helping to mediate with the doctors in their plans for the next steps of care.
Patients are generally not experts in healthcare, so a stay in a healthcare facility can be bewildering, full of jargon, and medical talk they do not fully understand. On busy rounds, physicians do not always have the time to explain every term and procedure, leaving the patient confused. As a patient advocate, the nurse can ‘translate’ this for the patient, using language that is more clearly understood, and answer any questions from the patient so they can make informed decisions on their care. Upon discharge, they can also point the patient toward resources and information they can use to support their ongoing recovery.
Being a patient advocate is not always easy, but it is one of the key ways to ease a patient’s stay in a healthcare facility.