“Patient advocacy” is a buzzword floating around every American healthcare system, but what does this catch phrase really mean? Beyond that, how can clinicians, especially nurses, best advocate for patients under their care? Keep reading to find out the answers to these questions and more.

What Is Patient Advocacy?

An advocate is “one who supports or promotes the interests of a cause or group” (Merriam-Webster). Therefore, patient advocacy is the act of “supporting” or “promoting” the interests of patients.

Regardless of their specialty, all nurses have an obligation to advocate for their patients. In essence, this means nurses have an obligation to protect their patients from harm, regardless of the harm’s source. While nurses never tell their patients what to do, they undertake actions to uphold the rights of those in their care.

4 Ways to Advocate for Patients

1. Provide Education

a nurse advocate for patientsHow would you feel if you found out you have a chronic medical condition that needs to be managed for the rest of your life? On top of that, you must now schedule and attend a litany of doctors’ appointments, grapple with insurance restrictions and acquire the resources that will help sustain good health. For most people, this type of situation is likely to induce high levels of stress and anxiety. That is why one of the most effective ways that nurses can advocate for patients is by providing education.

Nurses are a walking encyclopedia of medical knowledge. From information about medical conditions and treatment plans to how to successfully navigate the healthcare landscape, the breadth and depth of information at their disposal is powerful. When nurses take the time to share this information, their patients become more confident and capable of managing their healthcare. In turn, this creates the best possible scenario for success.

Advocate for Patients: Educate patients about their conditions, treatment options and the healthcare industry.

2. Protect Their Rights

From daily visits that spread cheer to encouraging good health choices, family and friends play an important role in a patient’s health journey. However, these relationships can be detrimental if the family member or friend does not respect the patient’s right to make their own decisions (assuming the patient is deemed mentally sound). In situations where the dynamics are less than positive, how can a nurse appropriately advocate for patients?

One thing that nurses can do to protect their patient’s rights is to ask permission before discussing or providing care in the presence of family or friends. This simple practice gives the patient control over who has access to their health information and decisions. Another way that nurses can protect their patient’s rights is by providing constant (and gentle reminders) to ALL that the facility is legally obligated to honor the decisions of the patient. This type of communication empowers the patient and makes it clear where the facility stands.

For more information on how to tactfully handle complicated patient-family dynamics, check out this article from DailyNurse.com.

Advocate for Patients: Protect the patient’s right to make their own healthcare decisions.

3. Communicate with the Entire Care Team

nurses advocating for patients by communicating with the care teamOf all the healthcare providers on a care team, nurses have the most frequent and direct interactions with patients. This means nurses are uniquely positioned to notice the subtlest of changes in a patient’s mood, behavior and/or health status. Furthermore, the frequency of nurse-patient interactions breeds a certain level of familiarity. As a result, patients often feel more comfortable discussing their thoughts, concerns and beliefs with their nurse.

How can nurses leverage this special role to better advocate for patients? For starters, nurses can take a proactive role in disseminating relevant patient information to the rest of the care team. For instance, if a patient has a do-not-resuscitate order in place, the nurse can make sure that this information is respectfully communicated to all the patient’s caregivers. Additionally, nurses can seek out information from their coworkers to gain a more complete understanding of the patient’s progress. When it comes to health and healing, information is power.

Advocate for Patients: Collect and disseminate relevant patient information with the entire care team.

4. Teach Them to Advocate for Themselves

No one plays a more integral role in a patient’s healthcare journey than the patient themself. From learning more about their medical condition to proactively implementing treatment options, the patient is largely responsible for achieving a successful outcome. However, fear, uncertainty and embarrassment can stop patients from taking steps in the right direction. So, how can nurses help their patients overcome this angst?

Patients that are empowered to advocate for themselves are unlikely to let temporary feelings or emotions interfere with their healthcare journey. One way that nurses can teach patients to advocate for themselves is by helping them create a list of questions and concerns they would like to discuss with their doctors (or specialists). This simple practice teaches patients to utilize all the resources available to them, giving them a sense of confidence and control. As is often the case, it is the littlest things that make the biggest impact.

Advocate for Patients: Help patients better utilize all the healthcare resources at their disposal.

Patient Advocacy Resources

It takes time, experience and education to become a strong patient advocate. That’s why we recommend these classes from Nurses.com. They’re sure to help you on your journey to better advocate for patients under your care.

Ethics for Nurses

Ethical decision-making in healthcare occurs on a regular basis, often without so much as a passing thought. Healthcare professionals are held to high standards of moral character and an expectation to be patient advocates. This innate drive to “do what is right” is rooted in history, law, clinical education and current daily practice. Click here to learn more about this course.

Interprofessional Strategic Planning

Healthcare has become increasingly complex within an environment of rapid change. Healthcare providers are faced with the challenges of adapting quickly and responding to the unprecedented demands for strategic planning. In turbulent environments with many interconnected and moving parts, healthcare professionals need additional skills in their toolbox. Click here to learn more about this course.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership has been shown to be particularly effective in turbulent and uncertain environments, such as those found in today’s healthcare organizations. Although not ever organization will achieve Magnet status, nurses at all organizations can learn how to use the principles of transformational leadership to support a professional practice environment that results in outstanding patient care. Click here to learn more about this course.

The healthcare landscape is becoming increasingly more complex by the day. As a result, patients are relying more on the healthcare providers to guide them through this maze. A nurse that can properly advocate for patients creates the best possible scenario for success and is a true asset to their organization and community.


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Explore additional resources from Premier Medical Staffing Services:

Agency Nursing: What’s in it for You
How to Deal with an Angry Patient
How to Rediscover Your Passion for Nursing
Is Your Healthcare Staffing Agency Nurse Owned?
Your Nursing Resume: The Five Do’s and Don’ts