RNs can translate their hands-on experience with patients into steps that will influence policy. Nurses have many opportunities to observe firsthand the positives and negatives of the current healthcare system. They are in the perfect position to identify needs and concerns related to the care patients currently receive or do not receive.
Advocacy involves the process of persuading someone to at least consider one’s point of view. Since the time of Florence Nightingale, the nurse has been the person who identifies patient needs and seeks ways to have the needs met.
Nurses have the ability to share experiences and insights with public and elected officials and become a powerful force in the policy-making process. However, to be effective, nurses need the ability to analyze the experiences and offer sound solutions.
In an article in The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, examples are given as to how nurses can advocate in the community, specifically economic matters and the educational and healthcare systems.
Economic matters in the community arena
Families are often willing to share with the nurse the difficulty they are experiencing in obtaining needed treatments due to the cost of these treatments. Nurses may be aware of a number of resources, either within the immediate community or within pharmaceutical companies themselves, that can assist those who have difficulty paying for their prescribed medications. An example of this is that a national chain store recently offered a 30-day supply of prescription medications at a discounted price. Nurses can advocate for patients by sharing this information and encouraging the patient and family to explore such pharmacies for lower prices.
Cancer care is expensive; treatments require long-term intervention and are a burden for patients and families with limited resources -- a recent blog
on TheONC is a good example of this. The nurse can share treatment resources available through not-for-profit groups, such as the American Cancer Society. In such situations, the nurse can advocate by sharing with elected officials and other gatekeepers the high cost of cancer care and its burden on patients and family.
While Medicare Part D has helped to address some concerns regarding the high cost of prescriptions, costs of medications remain a major concern for patients. The nurse may help the patient ask the primary care physician about whether a combination medication is available and might offer a cost savings. Some facilities provide sample medications if allowed according to their organizational policies. It is important to provide a safety net for patients to facilitate their compliance with the medication regime.
The educational system
Nurses can affect the quality of healthcare by advocating for an adequate number of school nurses in the primary and secondary school systems. By educating parents and school administrators on the impact of the RN on the quality of care for students, as allies they can help create change to strengthen healthcare services for students.
Working collaboratively with educational institutions of higher learning can improve healthcare in the community. Nurses from both a community clinic and nursing program could develop a collaborative relationship to meet immediate patient care needs and provide a necessary resource to develop an adequate supply of future nurses.
Advocacy in the legislative arena
Providing information to elected officials can be a source of significant influence on political issues affecting healthcare. According to the latest Gallup poll, nurses are the most trusted and are viewed as having strong ethical values. The nurse can provide factual information to an elected official, citing research, in easily understood language. This can carry significant weight in the legislative process and facilitate a change in policy. The State Nurses Association provides the top nursing legislative issues with supporting documentation on its website. Nurses are urged to participate in the annual Nurse Lobby Day.
The above examples are only a few ways in which nurses may advocate for quality healthcare. Our perspectives as nurses, our experience in patient care, and our passion for quality care are the valuable tools for creating change. I hope this information will entice you to get involved. The public needs our voice!
What unique ways have you been able to help cancer patients obtain medications, care, etc.?