Critical Care: The Role of Nurses as Patient Advocates

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For nurses, the most important part of their job is delivering quality care. But there is more to high-quality care than knowing diseases; nurses also act as patient advocates. They can help patients make informed decisions regarding their health, including helping them navigate a complex medical system, translating medical terms and helping patients make ethical decisions. Because they have the most direct interaction with patients, nurses are ideally positioned to be advocates. When nurses successfully advocate for their patients, their work promotes the healing process.

What Is Patient Advocacy?

The American Nurses Association (ANA) provides this definition of nursing practice: “The protection, promotion, and optimization of health and abilities, prevention of illness and injury, alleviation of suffering through the diagnosis and treatment of human response, and advocacy in the care of individuals, families, communities, and populations.” The ANA also addresses the importance of advocacy in its Code of Ethics, specifically in Provision 3: “The nurse promotes, advocates for, and protects the rights, health, and safety of the patient.” Clearly, advocacy is a key tenet of nursing practice.

The following forms the basis of nursing advocacy: preserving human dignity, patient equality and freedom from suffering.

Preserving human dignity

In many medical situations, patients and their families are anxious and confused. A calm, experienced nurse can help patients navigate an unfamiliar system and communicate with their physicians. In some cases, nurses also educate the patient about tests and procedures. They should be aware of how culture and ethnicity can affect the patient’s experience while also adhering to privacy laws. In general, nurses are in a unique position that allows them to integrate all aspects of patient care, ensuring that concerns are addressed, standards are upheld and positive outcomes remain the goal.

Patient equality

The healthcare system is constantly changing, both in terms of organization and technological advancement. With these changes come shifting regulations related to the delivery of care and health services. However, nurses must remain above the fray, advocating for patients “with compassion and respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and uniqueness of every individual, unrestricted by considerations of social or economic status, personal attributes, or the nature of health problems,” the ANA Code of Ethics states.

Freedom from suffering

Nurses enter the profession because they have a desire to help others. The core value of helping to prevent or manage suffering is a significant part of this. This can be achieved at the physical, emotional or psychological level, and is one of the most important aspects of patient care. Nursing professionals should be available for patients and their families as advocates for their well-being.

How to be an Advocate

Nurses are advocates for their patients in several critical ways. They are communicators, liaisons, educators, interpreters and caregivers. A career in nursing entails filling multiple roles while providing quality care and striving for healthy outcomes for all patients. How can nurses best be advocates for their patients?

Helping to make informed decisions

One of the most basic ways that nurses can be advocates for their patients is ensuring they have the right to make decisions about their own health. Especially if a patient is alert and competent, nurses should take the patient’s decisions seriously, even if the patient declines to take certain medication or refuses a treatment. When the physician doesn’t agree, the nurse has a responsibility to provide information so the patient can make informed decisions and to offer support.

Making patients a priority

The ethics involved in patient advocacy can make for complex situations. For example, if a patient is dealing with a terminal illness, family members may disagree about care. Although patients may only want comfort measures, oftentimes their loved ones seek strategies that can prolong life. Regardless of the family’s wishes, in this situation the nurse has a duty to facilitate the patient’s needs. Nurses must make the patient their priority. “Advocating is about standing up for the rights of your patients and firmly defending them even if you personally may not agree. Personal feelings or preferences are put aside, since health care is about the patient and his needs, not caregivers,” said a registered nurse employed by a New York City hospital in an article from NurseZone.

Being a resource

Another area that often calls for advocacy is the financial aspect of healthcare. Families are sometimes more comfortable discussing the difficulties they experience due to treatment costs with nurses, rather than physicians or other healthcare professionals. The conversations nurses have with patients can mitigate these situations, helping patients access the healthcare services they need.

One example of this is prescription drug costs. Nurses are knowledgeable about a variety of resources, either within their communities or directly through healthcare organizations, that can assist patients who have difficulty paying for prescriptions and other healthcare services. Nurses can also advocate for their patients by assisting them with the research involved in cost savings. This can include comparing one drug over another or even communicating with physicians to find ways to lower costs.

Continue Your Nursing Education by Obtaining a BSN Degree

You can gain the skills you need to be an advocate for your patients with Alvernia University. Our online RN to BSN Completion Program helps you deliver optimum patient care and pursue leadership positions. In a flexible and convenient online environment, you can reach your goals while maintaining your current work and personal schedule.

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