Advocacy is essential for nurses to maintain quality of care and protect patient rights. During the pandemic, nurses are advocating for patients when strict policies prevent visits from family members or friends. Nurses become the link between the patient and the outside world. They also serve as a liaison between the patient and the rest of the healthcare team. The need for nurses to advocate for patients has never been greater.
Nurses are finding creative ways to keep isolated patients connected with loved ones, mainly through technology. Patients often do not have a phone or tablet for themselves, or they may be too sick to operate a device, so they must rely on a nurse to facilitate that connection. For example, one large oncology network is allowing retired nurses, nurse educators and industry nurses to volunteer to sit with patients receiving chemotherapy.
Some facilities have purchased tablets, while others rely on the patient’s family or friends to drop one off instead. Hospitals like Massachusetts General implemented a call-button video system. Tablets mounted to IV poles help patients communicate with loved ones. They also help reduce the spread of infection to the medical team by allowing caregivers to check on patients without entering the room.
Of course, not every healthcare organization has the budget or funds to purchase tablets. Community donations are critical. Some nurses and doctors are taking it upon themselves to collect tablets. Some facilities station a door screener so family and friends can put the tablet into a container that a transporter delivers to the patient.
As patient advocates, nurses must consider their patients’ health literacy and adapt care accordingly. Clear communication by healthcare professionals enables patients to understand and act on health information. Whether or not patients are diagnosed with COVID-19, heightened fear of the virus and safety precautions can affect patients with high health literacy.
Nurses have always served as translators for patients, converting complicated medical jargon into simple language. No doubt you have seen this. The doctor talks, smiles at the patient and then asks, “Does that make sense?” Then the patient (or family) says “Yes,” and the doctor leaves. The nurse then translates what the doctor said into understandable points and action items, ensuring that patients or family members grasped the information by asking them to repeat it or teach it back.
With access to patients restricted due to the pandemic, nurses are often relaying information from their loved ones. In some cases, nurses must advocate for exceptions to the “no visitors allowed” rule.
COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges for healthcare teams. Nurses provide the “human connection” for patients during temporary visitor restrictions. They play a key role in keeping communication lines open between patients, loved ones and healthcare team members.
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