Nurses typically have the most contact with patients, meaning they are likely in the best position to be their voice in discussions about their plan of care with doctors, support staff and even family members.
The core ideology of patient advocacy is ensuring the patient’s satisfaction and safety, while advocating for their best interest. Here are four tips you can use to be strong patient advocates.
1. Be Informed
Nurses must be knowledgeable about the patient’s entire plan of care, their past medical history and current clinical status. You should be familiar with each patient’s unique wants and needs and how those fit into their care.
Utilize all of the resources at your disposal when speaking on behalf of your patient. For example, document any statements your patient makes to you about their desired level of care. You should also consult advance directives to support your position.
2. Be Educational
As an advocate, you can guide your patient through their decision-making process, offering medical advice and answering any questions they might have. Patients have the final say, but it’s important you provide them with the tools and resources they need to make the most informed decisions.
Patients can be anxious and unfamiliar with treatment protocols and medical jargon. Even worse than being uninformed, they could be misinformed with inaccurate advice from outside sources. Nurses should ensure their patients and families understand why certain tests are being performed and certain medications are being administered. Use vocabulary which individuals with no medical background can easily comprehend. Confusion regarding a patient’s plan of care can lead to anxiety, and a nurse should always endeavor to reduce patient anxiety.
3. Be Assertive
Being an effective advocate means being an effective negotiator. Nurses must know the difference between being assertive and aggressive. To be assertive is to calmly and confidently discuss what your patient needs and to stand your ground if you meet unjustified resistance. Conversely, aggression is refusing to listen to another’s point of view, insisting you are right and bullying your way into consent.
Be aware of not only the message you are conveying but also the way you are conveying it. Body language and tone are very important when advocating for a patient—you should not appear hostile or confrontational. Nurses who stay composed and speak clearly, especially in emotionally charged situations, are more likely to accomplish their goals.
Using phrases such as “in the patient’s best interest” and “per the patient’s request” keeps the focus of each discussion on the patient.
4. Be Prudent
Knowing when to advocate is just as important as knowing how to advocate. If the patient’s wants are not being considered (or just plain ignored), it is his or her nurse’s duty to say something on their behalf.
Patients may be unable to defend themselves due to a lack of medical knowledge or a fear of negative consequences from disagreeing with a medical professional. In some cases, nurses may need to fight for a patient in disputes with the patient’s family. These situations can quickly escalate because family members may become defensive, but nurses who make it clear each individual involved wants the same thing—for the patient to be treated properly—can assure them he or she has the patient’s best interests in mind.
Don’t forget to take advantage of the experiences of other nurses at your facility. If there is a nurse (or group of nurses) you believe have been effective patient advocates, ask for their advice and model your behavior after theirs. Be sure to also share any information you’ve learned with your peers. Patients place a great deal of trust in nurses—nurses must work to keep that trust.
If you’re interested in becoming a patient advocate, you should check out our free guide, How Nurses Can Increase Satisfaction through Patient-Centered Care. You’ll discover how taking a patient-centered approach can help improve patient satisfaction and the patient experience.