Forsyth Medical Center Endowed Chair of Recruitment and Retention and Professor, Winston-Salem State University, Winston-Salem, N.C.
Years of experience have taught me to ask and never assume someone's preferences.
Patients enter today's healthcare systems with unique beliefs, lived experiences, expectations, and preferences influenced by diverse characteristics of culture, gender, ethnicity, age, education, family dynamics, illness, and a variety of other factors. We interact with patients from diverse cultures, and our daily goal is to provide patient-centered care that achieves patient satisfaction and exceeds expectations.
Meeting patient expectations can be a challenge, so recognizing and managing the dynamics of diversity are essential. Assessing and addressing patient preferences have always been a vital part of providing quality nursing care, forming a basic foundation for ensuring patient satisfaction.
Hold fast to policies that promote patient safety, such as only allowing smoking in designated smoking areas. But consider leniency in areas such as extended visiting times or allowing additional visitors if these have a positive impact on the patient and don't affect others negatively.
Although a focus on decreasing lengths of stay may decrease one-on-one time with patients, nurse-patient interaction is one of the great joys of our work, and a desire to learn about how individuals and cultures celebrate, grieve, provide social support, and develop healthcare practices and traditions assists nurses in providing individualized care. Years of experience have taught me to ask and never assume someone's preferences. Listening to patients' questions, concerns, and suggestions engages them in their care plan.
Your healthcare system can develop a deeper understanding of the patient populations you serve by exploring and identifying cultural contexts of individuals and communities in your service area. Talk with your patients and families about how they perceive health, illness, and help-seeking behaviors. Although some firmly believe in the advantages of Western medicine, others may prefer traditional healing methods. A primary role of nurses as patient advocates is to ensure that all patients feel valued and heard. And, remember, although we present healthcare choices or options, the patient is the key decision maker regarding his or her health.
For the most part, individuals tend to interact based on their own cultural values, experiences, and preferences, so hire personnel who reflect the culture and ethnicity of the patient populations served on your unit. Also, make sure staff members demonstrate respect and compassion for all cultures. Identify your unit's ability to meet cultural and linguistic needs and preferences. Encourage your staff members to understand the impact of their cultural influences on patient care choices and decisions.
A nurse manager recently shared an example of recognizing and respecting patient and family culture as she communicated with an American Indian family in her role as an organ procurement nurse. When asked, family members agreed that it was a good idea to donate their son's organs, but requested their spiritual leader perform a death ceremony as the organs were removed. Although this type of ceremony had never been conducted in that hospital, it assisted the family members to deal with the death of their son and understand the gift of his organs within their cultural context.
Individualized, quality care demands that we ask, listen, and respect patient and family preferences.