If you have ever been a patient in hospital, you will understand that what is important to the patient can differ from the priorities of the nurse. Both people are looking at the same situation, but from different perspectives. For example, a conscientious nurse may be diligent in providing medication on time, but the patient’s more pressing concern of getting assistance to go to the toilet may be overlooked. So what is it that patients really want and how can you deliver it?
Don’t assume, ask
Just because your patient isn’t complaining does not mean that everything is as it should be. Give your patients the opportunity to raise any concerns they have and keep them informed about what is happening rather than assuming they are as familiar with hospital routines as you are.
Be aware of non-verbal communication
As patients are often in a confused, anxious and weakened state, they are hardly in a position to articulate precisely their comments and concerns. A patient’s body language, however, can tell you more than words about how they are feeling. Similarly, your body language sends a message to your patients. A dispassionate facial expression, for example, could be misinterpreted by the patient as uncaring.
Recognise individual views
Patients are not a common group of people with shared beliefs and behaviours, they are all unique individuals. For this reason it is important not to automatically impose your personal point of view on a patient. What they want may not be what you want, and vice versa.
Remember that patients have choice
It is very easy to slip into the ‘nurse knows best’ style of treating patients: talking to an individual as if they were a three year-old child being given their medicine, for example. It is essential to remember that you are mostly dealing with intelligent individuals with carefully considered opinions, and they have the right to comment on their care and, if they wish to, decline treatment. Of course, there are exceptions, such as the law stating that patients under the age of 16 cannot refuse treatment, but otherwise, you need to balance the need to act in your patients’ best interests with their right to accept or refuse treatment.
Consider mental, as well as physical health
It is important to consider all mental health issues when dealing with patients, as they can have a significant impact on the patient’s care and recovery. Take, for example, a nurse presented with an elderly woman suffering from a blood infection. The nurse may question the patient to gain a full understanding of her circumstances – home life, current medication and so on – all the while unaware that she is also suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, rendering the answers to the questions invalid.
As well as an awareness of possible hidden mental conditions, you should always comply with laws regarding mental capacity and make sure that the rights and best interests of those who lack mental capacity are at the centre of the decision-making process.
Above all, nurses should remember that patient care is about the patient, not the nurse or anyone else. You must act in their best interests at all times. This means treating each patient individually, respecting their individual rights and not imposing anything that is not consistent with their wishes.
Miriam Palk is our Head of Nursing, having previously worked at The Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust and has over 30 years' nursing experience.
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