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How nurses provide patient-centered care

At roughly 330 million people, the United States has one of the largest populations in the world. Since we have such a large population, it might come as no surprise that there are tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of residents needing help daily. Providing that help is easier said than done. We see a constant battle to provide adequate care to every patient in healthcare when the workforce is short-staffed. Nurses, in particular, are responsible for effectively meeting their patient’s needs while working with other patients with their own needs simultaneously. This article will explore how nurses and healthcare workers tailor their approach to patient care to best suit individual needs.

What is personalization in healthcare?

Before we dig into exactly how nurses tailor their care, let’s talk about personalization in healthcare. Known as “patient-centered care”, personalization in healthcare refers to treating patients as individuals, and assessing and addressing their specific needs. For decades, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has defined patient-centered care as responding to and respecting individual patient preferences, values, and care needs in all clinical decisions. This has become the de facto definition of the term and is widely used in medicine today. 

Patient-centered care is all about reacting to individual patients. It can be easy in healthcare to treat the health concern rather than the patient, but not all illnesses and other issues affect everyone the same way. A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to care simply doesn’t work because every patient has unique care needs. For that reason, nurses spend a lot of time working through their patients’ medical history as well as the life experiences and cultural values that might affect the way they view healthcare. This, in turn, allows them to provide respectful care that acknowledges such things as religion and social norms in the patient’s community.

In nursing, providing patient-centered care includes acknowledging patients’ stories, knowledge and experiences along with their needs, preferences and values. The acronym “CARES is a good basis on which healthcare professionals build patient-centered care plans:

  • C – Confident competence
  • A – Accessibility
  • R – Reciprocal respect
  • E – Emphatic empathy
  • S – Simplicity

Following the CARES acronym ensures that nurses and other workers include their patients in medical decision-making and adapt care as their patients direct. This is the hallmark of patient-centered care – allowing patients to guide the treatment process.

Some elements of effective patient-centered care include: aligning the health systems’ mission, values and vision to patient-centered goals; ensuring care remains collaborative, accessible and coordinated; providing care focused on both emotional well-being and physical comfort; encouraging family members to be part of their loved one’s decision-making; and respecting family and patient preferences, cultural traditions, socioeconomic conditions, and values. 

Tailoring medical approaches to suit specific patients’ needs matters because it improves patient outcomes. This is a widely accepted fact in healthcare and guides decisions made by healthcare workers. Nurses are best suited to provide truly individualized care for their patients and give them the best possible chance of a full recovery. 

What goes into patient-centered care?

Now that we know a bit about tailoring medical approaches to individual patients, we’ll explore the dimensions of patient-centered care. There are seven dimensions in total:

  • Respect for patients’ values, expressed needs and preferences
  • Education and information
  • Access to care
  • Mental and emotional support to ease anxiety and fear
  • Including friends and family
  • Collaboration, continuity of care and safe transitions between healthcare facilities and settings
  • Physical comfort

Mastering these dimensions may be complicated. While it’s true that it takes time and commitment to fully understand how to provide effective and holistic care to patients, the process can be significantly accelerated through education. For example, online DNP FNP programs from academic institutions like Wilkes University are dedicated to training aspiring nurses to be the best and most influential professionals possible. This includes mastering the seven dimensions of patient-centered care and analyzing data from patients.

Respect

Respect in patient-centered care involves speaking with patients and their loved ones about their values, preferences, and needs. Once nurses and other healthcare workers understand the context behind the patient’s care decisions, they can formulate a care plan that acknowledges cultural norms and family dynamics.

Education

Many people see the care process as one that ends when patients are discharged. However, nurses provide patients with the information and education they need to make informed health decisions in the future. This is done in a few different ways including through clinical information systems. These provide test results, patient and physician reminders and alerts, information on recommended treatment plans, and links to further information via a patient portal of some kind. In this way, they allow patients to be more involved in their treatment. Nurses should be familiar with information systems and be prepared to answer questions stemming from the information within them. 

Nurses also interact directly with patients to provide information about their treatment options, conditions, and plans, involve their loved ones in the care process, and share test results. They also help patients come to terms with the impact of their health condition on their lives and ensure they understand how to make the changes needed for recovery. Nurses and other healthcare professionals can also provide patients and their loved ones with additional resources for further aid and education designed to motivate them to make the changes needed.

Access

Regarding accessibility in healthcare, nurses must do their best to make the care process as clear and straightforward for their patients as possible. This includes efficiently using their time with the patient, being responsive to telephone calls and emails, and providing holistic care that addresses the patient’s overall well-being. Improving accessibility by demystifying the care process makes seeking future care more accessible for patients and helps increase the likelihood of proactive healthcare decisions.

Support

The most effective patient-centered care involves providing patients with holistic support. That means that nurses focus care on both the health issue that led to the patient entering the healthcare system and on the emotional needs that the issue evokes. It is normal for patients to feel fear and anxiety about their care, their health condition, and their future. Nurses are especially well-situated to provide support for both emotional and physical needs, helping patients adjust to the care process and feel less stressed. 

Inclusion

Patient-centered care may involve including the patients’ loved ones in their care process. Whether those people are friends, family or partners, nurses and other healthcare workers actively engage them in patient education so that everyone is on the same page. This gives the patient a more supportive environment which can promote their recovery and empower them to take an active role in their health and well-being.

Coordination and continuity

The coordination of care is crucial to its success. Providing holistic care that promotes a patient’s overall well-being is the goal. For this reason, medical professionals must be part of a collaborative team rather than independent beacons of healthcare. Instead of primary care providers and specialists having entirely separate and potentially discordant care plans, coordination facilitates continuity of care and ensures that patients receive support from all of the healthcare workers with whom they interact. 

Physical comfort

While emotional comfort should be one of a nurse’s concerns when treating a patient, their primary concern should be managing physical comfort. Patients who are in pain suffer in many different ways. Physical pain affects them, of course, but also influences their ability to eat, sleep and communicate. Nurses should strive to manage the patients’ physical needs to encourage emotional well-being. 

Patient-centered care in action

There are a few broad steps nurses can take to improve their patient-centered care approaches. They start with assessing the patient. Once they have undertaken a proper assessment, nurses identify goals and pick intervention methods. Once these methods are being implemented, the nurse must evaluate and monitor progress.

At the assessment stage, nurses must assess their patient’s physical, medical, social, spiritual and emotional needs. Determining a patient’s physical needs is important, but all of these factors are critical to true patient-centered care practices. Asking questions, listening to patient concerns, and even using tools such as questionnaires and surveys, can help nurses and other medical professionals to assess all of these needs for each of their patients. 

Next, nurses should identify their patients’ goals. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean an issue-centered goal. Instead of having a goal to walk again, for example, patients might express a goal of “getting back to normal”. The latter is more complex than simply resolving the specific health condition itself because they will likely face a long road to recovery even once the immediate medical concern has been stabilized. Understanding patient goals allows nurses and other care providers to tailor their care and suggestions to suit their patients’ needs better. Nurses can also help their patients set viable goals by ensuring they are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

The next step is to pick an intervention and/or care strategy. Nurses pick care approaches that directly help their patients meet their goals while remaining safe, cost-effective and evidence based. These approaches must also respect the patient’s values, needs and preferences. Coordinating care with other care providers is an important action at this point in the care process.

Finally, nurses must evaluate and monitor their patients’ progress. This can be done in a few different ways. Nurses interact directly with their patients and can use their observations to assess the effectiveness of the treatment in question. They can also communicate with patients and ask them how they are feeling and if they are developing or eliminating symptoms. Monitoring test results and interacting with family and friends are also important to providing effective care to patients. 

Improving patient-centered care

All the above is essential information to provide the best care possible. It is not, however, time-proof. As more studies are conducted into patient-centered care and new trends and treatment options emerge, the best practices described in this article will likely change. Nurses must pay close attention to the latest industry news and incorporate or remove elements from their approach and strategies as necessary. Above all, nurses must always seek to improve their care decisions to ensure their patients are set up for success in their recovery efforts.

Patient-centered care is crucial to a healthy and well-adjusted population. Nurses are essential in providing tailored medical treatment, from involving family and friends to providing comprehensive education. If you’re interested in learning more about nursing and how nurses fight for their patients, use this information as a starting point and dive into more research! Keep an eye out for schools that provide the education you need to make a difference.

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