Nurse practitioners (NPs) are a kind of advanced practice registered nurse. To become an NP, a registered nurse (RN) must complete advanced, specialized classes as well as additional clinical practice competencies in the area of their choice.
NPs focused on women’s health, for example, will need to complete additional coursework related to caring for women and their specific health concerns. The exact education behind an NP’s career varies from one practitioner to another but typically includes master’s, post-master’s, or even doctoral preparation alongside national board certification. It is also worth noting that these qualification requirements do not indicate the total educational effort NPs will exhibit over the course of their careers. NPs typically have ongoing educational and professional requirements to uphold. This primarily includes remaining up to date with any changes in their industry.
NPs are allowed to practice both independently and in conjunction with other professional healthcare providers. They offer specialty and primary care in a number of long-term, acute, and ambulatory settings. Family nurse practitioners (FNPs), for example, provide primary care to patients in all age groups. From infant care to geriatric health concerns, family nurse practitioners are well-versed in the general health concerns families face over the years.
Other nurse practitioners are focused more closely on a specific kind of patient. Practitioners focused primarily on geriatric care, for example, are expected to remain up to date with common health challenges facing men and women in that age group. This includes preventative care as well as diagnosing more serious illnesses or injuries. NPs focused on geriatric care must be able to identify risk factors, diagnose issues, and then create effective health plans to treat the health problems in question.
This article will take a closer look at nurse practitioners and how they engage with their patients and their families to assess health needs and promote and provide health education.
What do nurse practitioners do?
Nurse practitioners are equally qualified to provide primary care as doctors. That means that almost everything you envision a general practitioner doing – from ordering and interpreting labs to providing preventative care and beyond – are also responsibilities of a nurse practitioner. As you might imagine, this leads to long working hours for NPs in all manner of specializations. Aspiring NPs wondering how many hours do nurse practitioners work should expect full-time work, at a minimum.
The exact responsibilities NPs hold vary depending upon specialty and location, but there are a few near-universal duties to keep in mind:
First, just like general practitioners, NPs tend to focus on preventative care. That means that they seek to educate their patients and their families to help avoid serious medical problems in the short and long term. Beyond that, NPs are typically responsible for assessing a patient’s health, diagnosing any particular health problems, and treating them.
The latter consists of two different stages: development and implementation. NPs must first develop a potential treatment plan. They do this by completing all diagnostic steps necessary, establishing priorities to meet the needs of the patient, developing a treatment and education plan created with the individual patient (and their health literacy and learning needs) in mind, and then meeting with the patient and their family, if applicable, to go over the plan.
Once the plan has been created and discussed with the patient and their support circle, NPs must successfully implement the care plan. This is done by discussing health outcomes with patients and educating them about the best ways to recover. NPs must provide care that is consistent with the plan they create and inclusive of the patient’s circumstances.
Once the patient’s treatment has been completed, NPs conduct follow-up evaluations to ensure the treatment has been effective. They also continue to provide preventative care for the patient. If they notice that the original treatment plan is no longer sufficient, NPs will use these follow-ups to reevaluate the patient’s needs and revise their course of action.
What is an NP’s goal?
An NP’s goal is to provide patients with the highest quality of care possible, ensuring they can live healthy and happy lives.
Education is an important part of an NP’s responsibilities that is often overlooked. Effective NPs educate their patients as well as their patient’s loved ones about the best practices for maintaining their health. From diet to exercise and everything in between, NPs have the responsibility of giving their patients as much good, evidence-based health information as possible. This empowers them to take charge of their health and make smart choices about the way they live their lives.
But how exactly do NPs connect with their patients and their loved ones? There are several techniques that they can employ to ensure that their patients receive sufficient health education and information.
How do NPs educate their patients?
Patient education requires a serious discussion with the patient to evaluate their specific needs. Given what they know about the patient in question, including asking the patient about their ideal learning strategies, how can NPs communicate with them as effectively as possible? Good patient education encompasses compassion, understanding, and individualized care.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach that works for everyone. Instead, NPs must utilize a few different methods to best communicate with their patients. Sometimes this includes mixing common learning styles to create the perfect custom fit for their patients. Different learning styles include:
Studies have found that combining learning methods often leads to improved patient satisfaction. A Cochrane review published in 2005, for example, found that patients who were sent home with both verbal and written instructions were significantly more satisfied with the care they received than when they were given just one or the other. More importantly, these patients were also better able to recall accurate health information. Their knowledge acquisition seemed to be positively impacted by the combination.
That said, you might be surprised to learn that NPs communicate with their patients similarly to the way you might communicate with the people in your life. The challenge is to approach patients in the most effective way possible given their medical histories, health literacies, and preferred communication style. There are a few near-universal methods they employ:
- One-on-one conversations
- Written materials
- Online content
Let’s take a closer look at each of these engagement methods as well as their pros and cons for patient education.
Verbal communication is a time-honored method of communication. It is one of the most effective and simplest ways to provide patients with health information and to answer any questions that they might have. This can be an especially effective communication method with patients who are particularly nervous about their health issues and are scared or overwhelmed. Effective NPs with good communication skills can use one-on-one conversations to express empathy and understanding along with delivering fact-based information regarding the patient’s health.
Conversations are commonly used in most medical practices. It is difficult to imagine a situation where this communication method isn’t tried at least once. With all of that said, one-on-one communication isn’t always the best choice. Sometimes, as briefly mentioned in the prior section, it can be combined with other learning methods to more effectively educate patients and their families about their health concerns.
One-on-one conversations might take place at any point during the evaluation, consultation, or treatment process.
We know that written materials can be a great addition to verbal communication, but why? There are a few different reasons that the written word is sometimes the best choice when it comes to educating patients. First, written materials allow patients to digest information as needed. They aren’t being put on the spot, but rather given details they can puzzle over for as long as they’d like.
Written materials are especially helpful for patients who are good visual learners. It is important to note, however, that low health literacy, as well as low general literacy, are common issues. Ethnic and racial minorities are disproportionately affected by this, which maintains the health disparity these groups face rather than dispelling it. Written materials should therefore be distributed with care and as part of a communication approach that extends beyond the materials in question.
As far as what written materials encompass, there are several potential options. Perhaps the most common is simply handwritten provider notes. The NP writes down instructions for care or a few important points about a health concern and sends them home with the patient. Other written materials include brochures or promotional content. A patient receiving an IUD, for example, might be given the promotional pamphlet the manufacturer sends out with each box. This typically contains basic information about the device as well as warning signs to look out for.
Given the rise of both long and short-form video content, it should come as no surprise that some NPs find this to be an excellent method of communication. Videos are a wonderful tool for many patients. Individuals with low general literacy, for example, are able to sit back and absorb not only verbal communication but also visual cues. This is most helpful when videos contain related imagery to better convey the information in question.
Videos can also be a good choice for patients who do not speak the provider’s language fluently. Some NPs might have videos encompassing common health concerns or needs made in the language most common to the patients’ community, for example. If a video is not in the patient’s native language, it can still be useful, given the aforementioned relevant imagery is included.
As an example, in a video about taking someone’s temperature correctly, there should be visual cues to clearly demonstrate a step-by-step process. The first image might show the thermometer while the second would show it in use. The latter images might include the thermometer with the ideal temperature circled. These images can sometimes communicate what the voiceover cannot. The addition of subtitles is also an easy way to ensure that the content is easily understood by the community in question, including patients who are hard of hearing.
Online content is another form of communication that can help make patient education easy and effective. This kind of content ranges from email campaigns and websites to social media posts and infographics, and sometimes additional video content.
Some providers might offer to add patients to email groups targeted to their specific needs. A diabetes awareness campaign, for example, might keep them updated on the importance of follow-up visits as well as the best way to keep track of their insulin levels. Patients completing a routine round of vaccinations might be added to a separate group that sends out reminders as the date of the next vaccine comes up.
Beyond email campaigns, some NPs create their own websites with more extensive information about common health concerns in the community. This is an invaluable resource for current and potential patients as it enables them to understand not only more about the problems in question but also how the NP in question treats said issues.
Patient portals are a particularly helpful form of online content. These portals connect patients with their NPs and office staff as well as to lab results and even provider notes. This resource can help patients stay updated on their health, stay on top of their bills, and even help them find the answers to common questions that might otherwise take up provider time.
Finally, some NPs host classes for their patients. Family NPs might offer a class for soon-to-be parents to learn the basics of infant care. They can also help patients facing lifestyle changes as a result of their treatment. Classes can help patients stick to their treatment plan by preparing them for any issues they might encounter along the way.
The exact classes offered might vary greatly from one community to another, but when properly targeted at the local community in question, they can be an incredible educational tool.
Things to consider
There are many factors to consider when determining the best communication choice for a given patient. We won’t be able to go over every single one of them here, but we can take a look at some of the most common.
What is a patient’s native language?
Assuming that the healthcare provider is offering care in the American health system, English remains the default language for care. That doesn’t mean that everyone will be able to understand it. Sometimes NPs must understand their communities and think outside of the box to meet their patients’ needs. If they speak only English but work in a community where English is not the most common language, for example, NPs might consider working with an interpreter for both in-person conversations as well as for written medical instructions.
What is a patient’s literacy level?
Even in patients who speak English natively, a detailed understanding of complex instructions is not guaranteed. This is especially true with written materials. Some patients might not have the literacy required to understand written instructions. NPs must take this into consideration when communicating with the patient in question and adapt their manner of speaking and writing to the patient’s needs. Maybe they forgo written instructions entirely in favor of sending over a voice memo, for example, which allows patients to simply listen back to their words.
Another common communication barrier is cultural issues. The difficulty here is that these factors can be wildly disparate even in the same community. The best thing NPs can do when it comes to cultural barriers is to do their best to provide sensitive information as compassionately as possible.
Do you want to improve nurses’ communication with patients? Maybe you want to help transform the industry. With the information provided in the article above, you’ll be breaking communication barriers in no time.