Given the incredible demands health care providers face every day, itís impossible to be and do all things for all people. Health care providersónurses in particularótend to be helpers by nature. Having compassion for others and a desire to serve is often what originally attracts nurses to healthcare.
Major health conditions have far-reaching effects on the lives of patients and their caregivers and families. Much of the support they need falls into the psychosocial arena and can require resources ranging from insurance assistance, strategies for reducing stress, sleep disturbances, challenges in the workplace, loss of identity, body image and intimacy issues, and more.
Very few physicians and oncologists have time to address the life impacts of a disease like cancer. This often leaves the oncology nurse on the front lines of delivering medical care while also making best efforts to manage heavy hearts, financial woes, fear of the unknown, and lives torn apart.
Hereís a guide to the Who, What, How, and Why of guiding patients and caregivers to take the lead in being resourceful without feeling abandoned.
1. WHO?Who else, other than you, might be a great resource?
People in their community who may either be able to provide help or locate what they need. By nature, most people love to help. It can be challenging to know how to help a loved one with a life-threatening disease. Being asked to assist with something that comes easy (e.g., research, budgeting, organizing meals assistance, transportation, etc) can provide a sense of relief and a feeling of being able to contribute.
Experts in related fields such as social work. Itís not uncommon for patients to have preconceived notions about what it means to work with a social worker or therapist. Educating them about the benefits and process can help break down limiting beliefs and open patients up to using other qualified experts.
Being able to offload some initial information gathering to a third party can save you, patients, and their caregivers a lot of time and protect them from fear-based information that can be too easily found on the Internet.
2. WHAT?What other resources are available?
In-house resources. Itís surprising how disconnected health care organizations can be with regard to keeping different departments informed of available resources. Familiarize yourself with what is already accessible at your organization. Check with social workers, survivorship clinics, wellness programs, physical therapists, nutritionists, and psychotherapists to source existing options.
Nonprofit organizations with free support and services. Check out my recent post ďDonít Reinvent the Wheel: Nonprofits as a Healthcare Resource,Ē for some excellent referrals to nonprofits offering live events, online support groups, in-person support programs, extreme outdoor experiences, care plans, financial help, insurance information, and more.
3. HOW?Redirecting patients to solutions that donít involve you as the primary solution provider has many benefitsófor you and them. Yet, it can feel like youíre passing the buck or handing off a patient. How can you direct patients and caregivers to other resources with in a way that best serves them?
Acknowledge that dealing with a chronic or life-threatening disease can be very stressful and is complex. Help them understand that the situations require a number of interventions, not just one. Design a partnership with them where you provide professional guidance without being the one to take all of the action steps. Solutions that fall primarily into your hands when it comes to psychosocial, behavior change, and quality-of-life issues are not sustainable for the patient and it is not sustainable for you to be all things to all patients.
Know that patients are more likely to follow through if they are involved in creating the strategy. For example, if they believe yoga or mindfulness training could help them with their energy or sleep challenges, have them take charge of designing the strategy. Have them break it into steps. This may necessitate:
A check-in with their physician
Education as to what types of exercise can work best for their level of health
Locating a trainer, coach, or class facilitated by someone who has expertise dealing with their medical challenge
Assistance brainstorming on how to pay for the service if it isnít covered by insurance and finances are an issue
Educate them. Most patients have the ability to understand the basic concepts of something like behavior change. Be straight with them and share how evidence shows that when an individual comes up with their own action plan, they are much more likely to successfully follow through and complete it.
4. WHY?Why is it beneficial to outsource certain patient and caregiver needs?
When done properly, you can empower patients and caregivers to take the lead in their care. This increases their self-confidence in their ability to manage the health challenge and related issues. It also increases resiliency and reduces feelings of being overwhelmed when they understand they have the wherewithal to take action or ask for help from others in their community.
Taking these steps will be beneficial to you, as you will feel less overburdened while still making a difference for the patient and their family. They also benefit the patient by helping them to take a more proactive role in their own care without having to do it all on their own.
Several years ago, while dining with Matthew Zachary, the founder and CEO of Stupid Cancer, the worldís largest nonprofit for young adult cancer survivors, he offered some sage advice to an eager newbie wanting to make a difference.
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