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5 Ways Nurses Can Empower Their Patients
Patient empowerment is part of a process to help people who have gone through care take ownership of their healthcare journey. According to the World Health Organisation, empowerment is a process which allows patients to gain greater control over decisions which affect their health.
Of course, what taking ownership means will vary from patient to patient depending on their needs. A change in an aspect of a patient's lifestyle, like their diet or an exercise regime, might be the trigger that results in a significant change. Alternatively, the support they need might be specific to their condition.
Whatever the case, frontline healthcare staff, like nurses, can play a central role in this process. After all, they do the majority of the daily work, and they’re also the people patients have the most contact with. Given this fact, let’s take a look at the role nurses can play in empowering their patients.
Education is absolutely fundamental to patient empowerment. However, it comes in a number of varieties. The first thing that nurses can teach their patients is the role they can play in their own healthcare journeys. This is an important first step. Buy-in is crucial for patient empowerment whether someone is managing a chronic illness, require complex care or recovering from an operation.
The next level of education that nurses can provide is actual knowledge of the patient’s condition. This can be impromptu, in the form of responding to questions and queries. Alternatively, nurses can provide more structured learning by providing briefings at important stages in the patient’s care.
In either case, the goal is to bring the patient’s knowledge of their condition up to a level where they are able to engage with care providers on a meaningful level, and then decide what the best options are for them. Then there’s education about practical skills. There are innumerable techniques and exercises that nurses can teach patients to help them achieve the best possible level of health.
Again, these might be condition-specific exercises like stretches, or they may be more general lifestyle skills, like meal planning. Nurses can also help patients to practice such techniques until they are confident in their ability to continue on their own.
Once patients have acquired a certain amount of knowledge about their condition, they’ll more than likely want to start doing their own research. In the internet age, more and more people are learning about their medical conditions online. While it is positive that patients seek to acquire a greater understanding of their condition, it can be a source of confusion and misunderstandings.
Nurses can assist in this process by pointing patients in the right direction when it comes to looking for learning resources. We all know that not everything we read online is true. Nurses can offer valuable insights, recommending forums and reputable websites with information relating to specific conditions.
Of course, there’s a world beyond the internet too. Nurses generally also have good knowledge of the literature in their field. They can aid the process of patient empowerment by offering one to one feedback to patients. Similarly, they might be aware of any groups or sessions that patients can join in their local area.
Receiving healthcare is often stressful and upsetting. Nurses know this. One of the main skills of their profession is empathy. In this way, nurses can alleviate the negative emotions that might crop up during the care process. For patient empowerment, some of the main emotional barriers include stress, fear, anxiety, and lack of confidence.
Simply feeling that someone understands these feelings will go a long way to helping patients overcome them. This can take many forms. In particular, nurses are usually skilled in active listening, which allows patients to find solutions to their own emotional problems. This is naturally, very powerful in helping the patient to feel empowered.
Nurses can also relate to patients by drawing on their own experience, both as healthcare practitioners and personally. The key is to make sure that the patient knows that they are not alone, and the emotional barriers to their empowerment can be overcome.
One of the best ways to achieve patient empowerment is by building long term relationships. Obviously, this is especially applicable to chronic conditions. This works in a couple of ways.
Firstly, when nurses have an ongoing relationship with their patients, it fosters a sense of trust. People know in their heads that they can trust their care providers, but in practice, they might not always be forthcoming with important information.
Building a trusting relationship can help patients accept the recommendations of a medical professional. A person is more likely to be open and honest about their condition with someone they’ve come to know. This can be important in empowering patients as it means that, when necessary, they can express whatever concerns or questions they might have.
Additionally, building good relationships between nurses and patients makes the experience of a medical appointment that little bit more pleasant. As we know, one of the benefits of patient empowerment is reducing the need for in-person appointments, but it doesn’t eliminate them altogether. And when the time comes, we want them to be the best experience they can be.
A large part of patient empowerment is helping a person decide which healthcare options are right for them. It is common for practitioners and patients to have a much more open dialogue about healthcare options. As part of this, a nurse can show flexibility and creativity in coming up with a care package that will suit the individual needs of the patient.
Any number of things which must be taken into account for this, including cultural differences, or more practical elements like what at times the patient works. Showing flexibility in these regards is vital, as they can often prevent patients from receiving the care they need otherwise. As well as this, allowing the patient to help draw up their own care plan will give them a greater sense of ownership of the whole process, and make them more likely to be fully empowered.
We know that patient empowerment allows for fewer in-person visits by allowing patients to take ownership of their own healthcare journey. The role that nurses and frontline staff play in this cannot be overstated. A solid relationship between healthcare professionals and patients is more often than not the cornerstone of patient empowerment. This is where a nurse’s soft skills can really improve a patient’s experience of receiving healthcare.
What I have tried to share are a few examples of the myriad of different ways that nurses can empower their patients. As I mentioned at the beginning, what patient empowerment means to a person changes on a case by case basis. By offering the right balance of support nurses are in a prime position to help support the needs of a patient so they can take control of their healthcare journey.
Juliette Millard is the Head of Clinical Governance at Newcross Healthcare. She has been a registered nurse for the last 30 years and specialises in oncology and palliative care. Since working for Newcross she has also developed the Bristol Nurse Advisor Service.