For patients in a hospital or other clinical facility, the experience can become bewildering. Patients often feel nervous and anxious, driven by fears about their health and a lack of knowledge about how things work in a healthcare setting. Patients can become overwhelmed in such an environment, unable to advocate for what they need.
A patient advocate greatly improves the situation. While some healthcare organizations employ people specifically as patient advocates, it’s often a responsibility that falls to nurses.
Nurses gain skills in patient advocacy through their academic preparations and on-the-job experience. In many situations, nurses are the only option for patient advocacy. It’s an increasingly important aspect of the job, especially as nurses deal with a more diverse patient population where language and cultural differences can create barriers between patients and clinicians.
What Is Patient Advocacy?
Patient advocacy helps give patients a voice in their own medical treatment and keeps them informed about the treatment and procedures provided. Patient advocates explain all that happens on the patient’s behalf. They also answer questions and walk them through potential treatment plans.
Patients advocates are “trusted allies” guiding patients through “the ever-changing, complex healthcare industry,” according to Proactive MD. “A patient advocate is someone who serves as a singular point of contact for medical patients as they seek, receive, and manage healthcare services.”
Family members have often filled this role in the past. More recently, hospitals may employ professional patient advocates, especially in larger cities. Nonetheless, nurses typically have the most contact with patients. ideally positioned as patient advocates.
How Can Nurses Advocate for Patients?
Nurses advocate for patients in a variety of ways, improving the effectiveness of treatment and health outcomes. Active listening and proactive communication, for instance, reduce patient anxiety.
Research clearly shows the benefits of patient advocacy. For example, a study from the University of Cape Coast in Ghana cites research finding that the absence of a patient advocate has “negative consequences,” including worsening health complications and even death. Another study details the benefits of patient advocacy at all stages of cancer research.
By the very nature of their job, nurses already are patient advocates. Everything they do is patient-centered. By focusing on patient advocacy, they can become even more successful in supporting the best possible health outcomes for their patients. Nurses also provide guidance to case managers and social workers about the patients’ needs after they are discharged and return home. Such coordination between advocate and caseworker increases the patient’s ability to manage their health after treatment.
Some of the areas of patient advocacy include the following:
Because they have the most contact with patients, nurses field many questions. Through this process, they can educate patients on their condition and their treatment plan. This plays a significant role in giving patients a voice in their medical treatment. Nurses can also coach patients on better health choices they can make after leaving the medical facility.
Keep Team Informed
Keeping the medical team informed of situations involving patients can improve treatment. For example, patients with certain religious or cultural beliefs may require changes in dress, family visits, and meal plans. Also, nurses can provide guidance to case managers and social workers about the patients’ needs after they are discharged and return home. As we’ve discussed, this increases successful after-care health management.
Protect Patients’ Rights
Many patients, lost in the confusion of stressful moments, may not advocate for themselves. Nurses can help guide them through decisions and remind them of their rights as a patent. This often involves communicating with a family member, as well.
This is important in all medical settings, but especially community clinics and hospitals. Guiding patients to resources that help them with finances and specialized care is an invaluable gift that nurses can give. This can range from telling them about less expensive options for prescribed drugs to healthcare programs offered for free through community clinics.
While not a formal part of the job in many medical facilities, nurses become patient advocates by the very nature of what they do. They can make a difference in a patients’ experience and have a significant impact on their health outcomes, even after they leave the medical facility.