According to the Healthy People 2020 report, access to good healthcare necessitates the ability to reach a healthcare provider, among other elements. The quality of healthcare is defined as “the extent to which care services increase the likelihood of desired outcomes for individuals and populations and are consistent with current professional knowledge.” Major transformations at the societal level, particularly in the healthcare sector, are reshaping the environment for the next generation of nurses. Given the crucial role nurses play in promoting health and ensuring patient satisfaction, nursing schools must emphasize preparing nurses to address the social determinants of health and deliver care tailored to individual’s needs.
Skillful nurses provide high-quality care by offering safe and effective care centered around the individual. This behavior aligns with the definition adopted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) in the United States that good healthcare is “doing the right thing for the right patient at the right time in the right way to achieve the best possible outcomes.” Healthcare does not directly address many of the root causes affecting health equity, such as economic and housing instability, discrimination, educational disparities, and inadequate nutrition. These factors significantly impact an individual’s health. This is where the role of nurses becomes crucial.
The Role of Nurses and the Importance of Outcomes
To improve health outcomes, action is required at all levels. Nurses play a key role in reducing clinical disparities and enhancing equity in healthcare. Nurses can strengthen their commitment to care by leading broad-scale efforts to establish new standards and competencies in the healthcare field. In this process, nurses will need to face complex ethical challenges that arise with the reshaping of healthcare to meet evolving needs. It is vital for the nursing profession to ensure their presence in guiding these primary healthcare and societal transitions.
The United States spends over 3.5 trillion dollars annually on healthcare, more than 25% per capita compared to the second highest spending country. Yet, indicators like life expectancy, infant mortality, and maternal deaths are less favorable in the U.S. compared to many advanced countries. Moreover, a diverse group of professionals from both within and outside healthcare settings work diligently to ensure equitable healthcare access. The role of nurses in these efforts is indispensable, given their direct interaction with individuals and families in providing and coordinating person-centered care to meet preventive, acute, and chronic health needs. Beyond the healthcare environment, nurses collaborate with social services to meet individuals’ social needs and actively contribute to broader community health.
The rapid increase in the global elderly population is expected to surge the demand for services and programs tailored to their healthcare and social needs. Notably, care for chronic conditions, which account for about 75 percent of all primary care visits, will be especially vital. This demographic shift will inevitably alter the nature of the care required. It’s recognized that the elderly incur higher care costs than their younger counterparts, necessitating enhanced support for managing multiple conditions and preserving strength and flexibility as they age. These realities emphasize the urgency to develop, test, and implement chronic care models. In these models, teams become fundamental in chronic disease management, with registered nurses (RNs) assuming a pivotal role in overseeing chronic disease care
Primary care requires at least four responsibilities:
- Engaging patients with chronic conditions in behavior change and modifying medications according to protocols written by the practitioner.
- Leading teams to improve care and reduce expenses for high-demand, high-expenditure patients.
- Coordinating care for patients with chronic diseases between the primary care home and its surrounding healthcare area.
- Advocating for broader population health by collaborating with local communities to foster healthier environments where people can live, work, study, and engage in recreational activities.
Multitasking and Responsibilities
Strengthening the core of primary care services is fundamental to achieving the threefold objective of improving patient care experiences, elevating population health outcomes, and reducing healthcare costs. The primary responsibility for successfully navigating and achieving these objectives lies primarily with the nursing team.
For people who find it challenging to access healthcare due to distance, service provider shortage, insurance inadequacy, or other reasons, it becomes evident that nurses are the lifeline for the care that meets their needs wherever they are. Nurses work in areas underserved by other healthcare providers, serving the uninsured and underinsured. They often engage with individuals in their homes to provide care, operate in various clinics, utilize telehealth to communicate with people and establish partnerships in schools and communities.
In addition to expanding primary care capabilities, nurses play vital roles during natural disasters and public health emergencies, helping to meet the significant surge in care needs. There are strategies adopted by nurses that enable them to utilize their skills effectively, providing improved care for populations with complex health and social needs.
To bridge the gap where many individuals can’t access healthcare due to insurance inadequacy, inability to pay, or shortage of clinics or providers in their geographical area, access to care is expanded through diverse settings where nurses operate. This includes qualified health centers, retail clinics, home health and home visits, telehealth, school nursing, school health centers, and health centers run by a nursing team.Nurses work to expand the scope of access to services for individuals regardless of their ability to pay by providing comprehensive primary healthcare services, referrals, and services that facilitate equitable care access.
Comprehensive care and tips for resilience
Providing healthcare services in people’s homes can promote more equitable access to quality healthcare. The rise of home healthcare has expanded opportunities for diverse populations around the world, from the elderly to the medically vulnerable, to receive care. School nurses are considered front-line healthcare providers as a bridge between the healthcare and education systems. As guardians of public health, they engage school communities, parents, and healthcare providers to promote well-being and improve children’s health outcomes. Access to school nurses increases equity in healthcare for students.
However, all these responsibilities demand an extraordinary effort that requires nurses to follow a specific lifestyle to maintain their energy. This includes taking short, regular breaks, which is essential for staying alert. It’s also advised to stay hydrated as dehydration quickly drains energy levels. Specialists recommend consuming fruits, nuts, yogurt, or granola bars during short breaks to provide sustained energy without causing sugar imbalances or fatigue. Additionally, stretching and short exercises maintain energy flow throughout the body and allow for prolonged focus. Keeping a positive attitude helps nurses stay motivated and active. Focusing on the rewarding aspects of their job can boost morale during challenging shifts.
In addition, the value of collaborative teamwork cannot be overstated. Ensuring effective communication and coordination among the healthcare team is essential. When everyone is aligned, it not only reduces stress but also promotes more efficient patient care. Such alignment elevates the quality of healthcare, increasing the likelihood of delivering comprehensive services, and solidifying one’s reputation as a provider of equitable, top-tier healthcare.
Nurses are uniquely qualified to help improve healthcare quality by assisting people in navigating the healthcare system, providing meticulous monitoring and follow-up through the continuum of care, focusing on the individual with all their needs, and delivering respectful care. Nurses can help overcome barriers to good care, including structural inequalities and implicit bias, through person-centered care management and cultural humility.
Complex health needs of individuals are often exacerbated by social factors that can hinder their access to optimal care. To mitigate this, nurses or nurse-led teams partake in activities like care management, care coordination, and transitional care as integral members of the healthcare system. These activities aim to diminish care fragmentation, boost communication, and elevate the quality and safety of treatments provided. Particularly for those grappling with intricate health and social challenges, the care management approach is crucial. These individuals often necessitate services from various providers, consistent medical check-ins, effective medication oversight, and support in addressing their socio-economic needs.
These diverse roles and accomplishments within healthcare, spanning patients of various backgrounds and needs, underscore the central role nurses play in both hospital systems and the broader healthcare landscape.
Such responsibilities also highlight the need for ongoing development and training in the nursing profession, ensuring they remain prepared and proactive in adapting to future advancements. This progression aims to enhance patient care and contribute positively to the well-being of humanity at large.