Patient advocacy begins with nursing. The patients in acute care now have a higher acuity and expanded life expectancy, which necessitates us to provide a holistic approach to nursing, including therapeutic communication, education, and patient advocacy. It’s crucial that we empower our patients to be able to speak up for themselves. This empowerment also allows patients to be active participants in their care, which can help them continue successful self-care after discharge. The ingredients needed for effective patient advocacy include education, presence, and a nonjudgmental environment. So, how can you maintain an environment for patient advocacy?
First, you need to educate your patients about everything you’re doing and why you’re doing it in the language they understand. It’s important for you to learn how to communicate with others in the way that’s best for them. This is different for each patient and can even be different for the same patient at different times.
When you’re in the presence of the patient, be present. Closing the door and documenting your notes in the room helps your patient feel that he or she is your focus. The more you do at the bedside, including documentation, the better the rapport you’ll build with your patient. You have to create an environment in which patients feels safe enough to ask questions and speak up for themselves regarding their healthcare. For example, patients need to know they have the right to remind staff members to wash their hands if they forget.
The hardest part can often be trying to be nonjudgmental. An example of this might be when a colleague says that a patient “must not really be in that much pain because he’s laughing and talking with his family.” Our experiences and life situations have a tendency to affect our perceptions of other people. However, in our profession, it’s important that we provide nonjudgmental care. How do you remove your biases? Every time you start to feel judgmental, imagine one of your loved ones as the patient. What kind of care would you want him or her to receive? This is one way to help you find your center.
Advocating for our patients is one of our most important roles as nurses. We set the tone for our patients by creating an environment for advocacy, which leads to a culture of safety in which patients feel empowered to speak up for themselves.
By D’dee Grove, MSN, RN
Associate Professor, ADN Program
Amarillo College Department of Nursing