ATTRIBUTES NECESSARY FOR EFFECTIVE PATIENT ADVOCACY
Last month we began our Patient Advocacy in the Correctional Environment series by discussing what is patient advocacy, and how can we, as correctional nurses, be advocates for our patients in our practice environment. This month, we will look at the attributes necessary for effective patient advocacy in any healthcare setting, but especially in our correctional settings.
Communication is always an area of potential misunderstanding, and especially so when there are two (or more) groups of people from different backgrounds and perceptions, and different missions in the workplace. As healthcare staff, we have certain words, our “healthcare language” if you will, that is perfectly understandable to us and to others in our profession. However, in correctional healthcare practice, most often the individuals with whom we are speaking have little to no background in healthcare. Using clear, concise words is very important; but most important is ensuring that the receiver of the message is understanding it the way it was intended. This can be done by explaining the same concept a number of different ways, and by verifying information received through talk-back (the receiver is asked to explain what they were just told).
Understanding the Policies & Procedures and Laws
This is extremely important in the correctional practice setting, as there are typically constraints placed on the way we can provide care due to security concerns, rules and regulations. In order to provide the necessary care, the correctional nurse must know, for example, how to access the patients and provide care. Can the correctional nurse go into the housing units to provide care, or does the patient need to be escorted to the medical unit? Are ace wraps acceptable medical equipment, or are they not allowed at the facility? Is accepting a thank-you card from a patient acceptable (In all facilities I know of, no….)?
In addition, correctional nurses need to know the laws that regulate their practice, including their scope, and also those laws that will dictate how their actions will be measured if anyone ever questions them.
Positive Working Relationship with the Team
Who is our team in the correctional practice setting? We have, perhaps, one of the most diverse teams of any nursing specialty! Ours not only includes other nurses and health caregivers (inside and outside the walls), but individuals from all walks of life, such as the correctional officers, the teachers, the dietary staff and trustees working in the kitchen, administrative staff, religious persons, and even sometimes volunteers. Working in concert with all these individuals may sometimes be challenging, as each has his/her own unique goals and perspectives, but taking the time to foster that relationship is most important, as all will benefit when the team works together for the benefit of our patient.
Personal Practice Improvement
At first glance, this attribute may seem a bit baffling. How does improving your practice through educational opportunities, maybe even obtaining an advanced degree, possibly help someone else? Although you (personally) ultimately benefit from learning a new skill, a new theory of care or advancing your education level, your improved practice skills and critical thinking skills are used to better care for your patients. Thus, your patients are the beneficiaries of your efforts to improve your personal practice.
Being Available to Patients
Last, but by no means least, is being available to our patients. This not only means physically showing up for work, conducting Sick Call or Chronic Care Clinic when scheduled or ensuring that medpass is done at the appointed time, but it means being present with the patient when you are doing those functions. Giving the patient the undivided attention they deserve while in your presence is sometimes very difficult to do. Your shifts are busy, and so always in your mind is the next patient, the next intake or the next task on your list…but it is so crucially important to be there in the moment with the patient. Really take the time to listen and hear what the patient is saying. Ultimately, it may save you two more sick call appointments with the patient because you addressed the real problem in the first visit, but more importantly, your patient deserves to have your attention for that very brief moment in time.
Can you think of other attributes that Correctional Nurses must exhibit as an advocate for their patients? Please share them below!