By Richard Cowling, PhD, APRN-BC, AHN-BC, FAAN, ANEF, vice president of academic affairs at Chamberlain College of Nursing
(Content courtesy of Chamberlain College of Nursing)
The makeup of every family is different. There are biological families, and there are those we consider family through emotional connection and support. What if families were considered partners in the care process who can collaborate with nurses to best meet patient needs and healthcare outcomes?
As a staff nurse early in my career, I saw what a difference it could make to involve family in the care of their loved ones. Many of my patients were acutely ill, and I found that when their family members were well informed, the patient’s care plan was executed more smoothly and they were more comfortable. Oftentimes, the family member became an ally in delivering care and supported patient improvements through encouragement in areas such as nutrition, emotional support, pain management and transition to discharge.
Working closely with patients’ families helped me realize they too were in need of my support as they dealt with the patient’s illness. Care does not stop once the patient leaves the hospital; I saw how important it was to educate family members on how to care for their loved one once they were in recovery at home. Nurses have unique access to a patient’s family from their position at the bedside. By providing information and support, nurses can minimize the family’s anxiety about delivering care and achieve positive responses in the patient.
Family-centered care recognizes the importance of caring for and integrating a patient’s family as part of the care process, as their involvement and opinions often guides the patient. It’s composed of four core concepts:
1. Respect and dignity: Actively listening to the patient and family members and using knowledge about values, beliefs and cultural background to improve the delivery of care and corresponding plans.
2. Information sharing: Timely communication of complete and unbiased information to patients and families that allows them to play an active role in care and decision-making.
3. Participation: Encouragement and support for patients and families in the care and decision-making process at a level they’re comfortable with.
4. Collaboration: On an institution-wide level, patients and families are invited to work alongside healthcare leaders to partake in everything from the development and implementation of programs to the delivery of care.
As the largest segment of the healthcare workforce in the U.S., registered nurses are uniquely positioned on the front lines of healthcare to build impactful relationships with patients and families. Nurses can collaborate with them by looking for opportunities to improve the delivery of care while empowering patients and families to be active participants in care plans. They also fill a critical role in training family members on how to care for the patient after making the transition back home.
By forging family-centered relationships at the bedside, nurses can earn the trust of the patient while honoring family as an integral support system for their loved one. All families share a common influence over the patient and should be considered partners who can collaborate with nurses to best meet patient needs and improve their healthcare outcomes.