Nurses are a critical component of an effective healthcare system. They all share the universal goal of keeping their patients as healthy and happy as possible, but the way they go about doing so differs from job to job. Nursing professionals working in hospitals, for example, require different skills than nurses in primary care facilities. In this article, we’re going to explore how nurses promote the prevention of illness and injury in their patients in various healthcare settings. From the neighborhood clinic to the fast-paced needs of critical care, we’ve collected the information you need to better understand nurses’ roles in their patients’ health.
The first area we’ll be exploring is the primary care sector. Before we dive into everything that nurses do to help their patients avoid illness and injury as much as possible in this area, let’s talk about what exactly “primary care” means. The term is used often, but not always accurately, when describing the healthcare system, and knowing its true meaning is essential when looking after patients.
Primary care is the healthcare services provided by nurses, physicians and other healthcare team members for routine needs. These are the people you see whenever you go to a doctor’s appointment, including for things like check-ups, annual wellness visits and immunizations. The care that patients receive in primary care practices is team-based, person-centered and community-aligned, with an emphasis on preventative care. Patients typically seek out primary care when something is wrong, which serves as their entry point into the healthcare system.
Now that you know what primary care means, think back to your experiences seeking healthcare in the past. Many people think of physicians when they think of primary care, but the reality is that nurses often perform the bulk of the work that primary care patients need. From conducting physicals to recording vitals and flagging any potential issues for review by the treating physician, many patients spend a lot more time with their nurses than they do anyone else in their care team. One of the main roles of a nurse is to help ensure that patients in need of specialized care or with more complex issues see their doctor as soon as possible by taking care of nonessential needs on their own.
With that said, what exactly do nurses do in primary care facilities, and how do they help prevent illness and injury in their patients? There are a few different aspects to consider, so let’s work through them now.
Adhering to safety measures
The first thing nurses can do to help ensure their patients are as healthy and safe as possible is to adhere to the safety measures set forth by their employer. More specifically, it is critical that nurses take the time to clean their hands and their instruments before and after working with patients. In addition, proper personal protective equipment must be used, including sterile gloves and clean facemasks (when necessary). Ensuring that patients are not exposed to harmful contaminants is one of the main ways nurses help prevent illness and injury in their patients.
Focusing on preventative care
Unlike other areas of healthcare that are designed to handle an illness or injury once it has occurred, primary care nurses strive to catch potential health problems as early as possible before they become serious issues. Patients showing signs of obesity or other routine healthcare problems, for example, might be pulled aside and provided with information about how to treat the issue to avoid long-term problems. Nurses can then follow up on progress as time passes. By paying attention to preventative care, nurses are able to head off some injuries and illnesses before they ever take hold.
Now that you know some of the ways that primary care nurses help, let’s take a closer look at some other areas of the healthcare system and how their responsibilities and nursing techniques change.
Hospitals are one of the most common experiences patients have with healthcare professionals. Their experience differs quite a bit from primary care. Nurses have to adapt their nursing techniques to fit these new challenges to ensure they are helping prevent illnesses and injuries in their patients.
Priority of care providers
One of the biggest differences patients experience between hospitals and primary care facilities is the amount of time physicians can spend with them. In primary care practices, providers typically schedule their appointments to allow some time to interact directly with the patient about their health and concerns. This might only translate to 15 or 20 minutes, but, during that time, the doctor’s attention is entirely upon them, and they are able to take a breath and ask any questions that come to mind.
In a hospital, a physician’s time is extremely limited. Spending five to ten minutes with a patient is a lot for them because they have dozens of other patients to see. For this reason, the bulk of patient care falls to nurses. Nurses also have a lot of responsibility; however, their responsibility lies mainly with patient care, rather than assisting doctors with advising patients on diet and physical health. As a result, nurses can spend more time with patients than physicians typically can. They take the place of other care providers who are diverted elsewhere, and nurses ensure their patients have a listening ear which helps to answer questions and concerns and make necessary changes to patient care plans.
Another area where hospital nursing techniques differ from primary care providers is the way they approach healthcare. As we mentioned above, nurses in primary care facilities tend to focus on preventative nursing, which is nursing designed to help patients avoid serious issues that require hospital care. Nurses working in hospitals, on the other hand, are responsible for reacting to existing health concerns and injuries and providing care based on the patient’s needs.
Let’s say a patient has diabetes that requires active management. A primary care nurse will emphasize the importance of diet and regular blood sugar monitoring to keep their patients from experiencing dangerous reactions to their illness. Hospital nurses will step in once those consequences have taken hold. If the patient does not manage their illness well and falls into a diabetic coma, for example, hospital nurses are responsible for caring for the patient as they try and recover.
In this way, hospital nurses prevent further illness and injury in their patients by keeping a close eye on their vitals and their responsiveness to external stimuli. If they encounter a sign that patients are worsening or their needs are changing, they must be ready to react immediately, including in emergency situations. By remaining reactive to these situations, nurses are able to keep their patients as safe as possible from further health concerns while under their care.
Social care environments
In social care environments, nurses provide care to people who require a bit extra help in their daily lives. One of the most common examples of a social care environment is a nursing home. When elderly adults are no longer able to safely live on their own, due specifically to their healthcare needs, they are often transitioned to long-term-care facilities. These facilities are designed to provide them with the care they need to retain as much independence and health as possible.
Nurses working in social care environments face unique challenges when they care for their patients, but the most effective of them manage to keep their patients safe from further injury and illness all the same. While some of their techniques are similar to both primary care and hospital nurses, others are unique to their nursing field.
The first way that nurses in social care environments prevent illness and injury in their patients is by closely monitoring their health. This goes beyond simply taking temperatures and measuring blood pressure, although both of these are important. Nurses must also pay attention to cognitive abilities as well as general mobility as patients move through their day. It is not unusual for elderly patients to quickly lose their ability to move around autonomously, and with this stagnancy, elderly patients can often decay far quicker than if they could still move around of their own accord. Nurses in long-term-care facilities must ensure that their patient’s cognitive function is stable, too. If this changes, the treatment plan patients require might need to be changed, and they might require different care techniques as a result.
In monitoring their patient’s health, nurses are able to provide both preventative and reactive care. Their ultimate goal is to prevent serious injury and illness, of course, but they must also react to existing health conditions as they change and progress. As a result, they must be both highly knowledgeable and flexible while also utilizing general preventative techniques to prevent new issues from forming.
Developing effective treatment plans
One of the benefits of working at a social care facility is the ability to build relationships with your patients (when appropriate). You are able to get a feel for their personality, their needs and their reactions to different events. If any of those factors change, especially the first or last, the nurses working with them regularly should be able to note the change and determine its cause.
This is different from simply monitoring health in a few ways. The most important of them is taking the knowledge you have about the patient and how their behavior is changing and channeling that into effective care plans. As a social care nurse, you would be best positioned to build care plans that actually make a difference in the lives of your patients. Not only that, but you would be able to change those plans on the fly as new health concerns develop.
Do you want to help patients, too?
Nurses are so important that the healthcare system can always use more of them. If you are interested in protecting the health of other people, a job in nursing might be the perfect choice. Whether you want to experience the rush of working in an emergency environment or prefer the relative solitude of primary practice, accredited nurse practitioner programs online from institutions, such as the University of Indianapolis, can start you on the path to effective nursing. More and more students are finding online programs to be preferable to traditional courses that require them to be present in person.
Even more important than this, however, is the educational institution you choose. Pick a well-known provider with a history of graduating successful nurse practitioners, like the University of Indianapolis.
If you are ready to learn more about preventing illness and injury in patients, use the information we provide above as a starting point and expand your research into more specific areas. And don’t forget – you can always become a nurse, too, if you’d like to join the legions of professionals fighting for our collective health.