Did You Remember to Thank Your Nurse? You Really Should.

As a nurse, it can feel like the world is on your shoulders when you’re only halfway through a 12-hour shift, you’re short a registered nurse and an aide, every bed in your wing is full, charts are starting to pile up, two patients are buzzing for help, someone’s grandmother is wandering the halls, and you’re waiting to hear from a doctor you paged hours ago.

Nurses today play much more significant roles than ever before. They’re responsible for distributing medication, helping during procedures, taking vitals, and resuscitating a patient who’s experiencing cardiopulmonary arrest. They coordinate the care and treatment of patients, including scheduling tests, handling insurance authorization, and corresponding with pharmaceutical companies. They’re with the patient from start to finish and often educate patients and their families about best health practices such as a change in diet or exercise. In many cases, a nurse may be responsible for following up with the patient to see how his or her health is progressing.

Doctors rely on nurses as do their patients. They are the backbone of any medical practice and can affect a patient’s care and experience more than any other variable in the health care system.

Nursing and the Continuity of Care

With people living longer, continuity of care has become more important, and nurses are integral to its success. From knowing a patient’s history, to taking the time to explain medical procedures and address concerns, nurses can make or break a patient’s experience. For this reason, Massachusetts General Hospital has implemented a new Attending Registered Nurse (ARN) program.

To build better continuity of care and patient relationships, the hospital assigns each new patient his or her own ARN. The same nurse is with the patient throughout the duration of stay, handling the majority of his or her needs and preparing the patient for discharge. The ARN program has significantly decreased readmissions and medical errors. According to Jeffrey Adams, PhD, RN, Director of the Center for Innovations in Care Delivery at the hospital, “The [nurse’s] role is designed to be a constant throughout the patient experience. The person the patient sees every day is available ahead of admissions and post-discharge. This is different than anything we’ve seen before. We evaluate this work closely and we know ARNs have significantly contributed to improved quality and patient satisfaction.”

Nurses Paving the Way to Better Health Care

According to the 2010 Future of Nursing IOM Report, nurses are the key to a positive patient experience and are integral in making the health care system more efficient and economical. The report states that nurses “have vital roles to play in achieving patient-centered care; strengthening primary care services; delivering more care in the community; and providing seamless, coordinated care. They also can take on re-conceptualized roles as health care coaches and system innovators. In all of these ways, nurses can contribute to a reformed health care system that provides safe, patient-centered, accessible, affordable care.”

In some states, nurses with advanced degrees may no longer need to work under a doctor’s supervision. Nurse Practitioners are able to diagnose, examine, and prescribe medication to patients. They may even be able to run their own clinics and become directly responsible for primary care. Ed Wagner, MD, MPH, co-director of the program The Primary Care Team: Learning from Effective Ambulatory Practices, discussed nursing programs like these with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“The practices that are engaging nurses in these new, expanded ways are showing better clinical performance and better patient experience. It means better care, no question,” he said.

No doubt, the role of nurses is changing. They are more responsible and less reliant on doctor supervision. As time passes and the nurse’s role—as well as the health care system—continues to evolve, it’s hard to say what will directly affect the patient’s experience. But if you have a good nurse on your side, chances are you’ll be in good hands.