Nurse Advocacy Helps Improve Patient Outcomes and Duration of Hospitalization

– Higher Education Enables Nurses to Develop Stronger Communications and Conflict Resolution Skills and a Deeper Understanding of Nursing Ethics –

AURORA, Colo. – April 9, 2013 – Nurses hold a unique position in the health care system because they see things that no one else may see and have the legal and ethical responsibility to report misconduct or negligent care to protect patients and the nursing profession.

Nurses play an important role as patient advocates when they intervene to resolve workplace and professional safety issues to improve patient outcomes and decrease the amount of time that a patient is hospitalized.

“Every year many post-surgical patients are readmitted to the hospital because of infections acquired in the hospital, or as a result of poor care. Nursing is a profession that has little tolerance for illegal conduct or unethical behavior,” says Gloria Ohmart, EdD, MN, APRN, associate dean, simulations at American Sentinel University.

Ohmart notes that taking responsibility for fixing errors or wrongdoing is not a new normal and has been written in the nurse code of ethics and nurse practice acts across the nation for many decades.

Mistakes happen and in health care, medical errors can sometimes cause death or injury. This is why mistakes must be reported and addressed. Accident or incident reports should not be seen as punitive, but as instructional and should address the following questions:

  • Why did this mistake happen?
  • What can be done to prevent a similar mistake?
  • How was the mistake corrected?

“Every nurse has the responsibility to protect the profession’s identity and that means reporting misconduct or negligent care to the nursing supervisor,” Ohmart adds.

The best way for nurses to intervene to protect their patients is dependent upon the presence of immediate risk to the safety of the patient.

“If the nurse recognizes that there is immediate danger to the patient, then swift action must be taken through direct intervention,” says Ohmart.

Steps to Resolve the Issue

Ohmart says that nurses should be familiar with the specific HR policies in their hospitals related to reporting unprofessional conduct or failure to provide appropriate nursing care.

“If a nurse uses the chain of command defined in that particular hospital, then they have performed the duty expected of every nurse in that hospital who has been in a similar situation,” she says.

Ohmart offers the following tips for intervening to protect patients and the nursing profession:

  • Is it a reportable problem? Just because a nurse doesn’t agree with a work policy doesn’t mean it’s wrong or illegal. It is important to do some research to see how the situation compares: find out what other facilities do and speak with someone from the licensing board.
  • Keep documentation. Keep an accurate record of issues that may be dangerous, illegal or unethical. These records should include dates and as many details as possible, including names of other people who were present and who may have heard or seen the reported event.
  • Practice safety in numbers. Check with other coworkers to see if they feel the same way about the situation, compare notes and discuss what the problem is and present a united front.
  • Speak to a superior. Talk to a charge nurse, head nurse, or supervisor to bring the problem to someone else’s attention. It may be an uncomfortable feeling doing this, but if no one brings bad behavior to the attention of a superior, it will never be discovered and corrected.
  • Consult the licensing board. Nurses who observe issues that negatively affect patient care are required to intervene. This is often written into state law and is part of each state’s Nursing Act and can be called “good faith” reporting. Nurses who are worried about retribution should request to speak to their nursing board representative confidentially.
  • Consider an anonymous reporting program. It can be difficult to file a report against a coworker or superior and most facilities have anonymous reporting lines for nurses who have observed a dangerous or unethical incident. Anonymous reports can be more difficult to investigate than named so the more information provided, the better the administration will be able to address the problem.
  • Go up the chain. Standing up and speaking out, can be difficult professionally and personally. If a superior does not act on the complaints, then nurses may need to go to the next level of administration and so on until they get to the top.
  • Pursue an advanced degree. Higher education and advanced nursing degrees empower through knowledge and enable nurses to develop strong communications and conflict resolution skills, the ability to negotiate and provides a deeper understanding of professional ethics.

“It is important for nurses to band together to provide a safe environment for everyone and must work together as a team,” says Ohmart. “Patients place their trust in us to provide safe care, so it is the responsibility of nurses to report misconduct or negligent care to protect their patients and the nursing profession.”

Learn more about American Sentinel University’s RN to BSN program.

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About American Sentinel University

American Sentinel University delivers the competitive advantages of accredited online nursing degree programs in nursing, informatics, MBA Health Care, DNP Executive Leadership and DNP Educational Leadership. Its affordable, flexible bachelor’s and master’s nursing degree programs are accredited by the Commission for the Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). The university is accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC). The Accrediting Commission of DETC is listed by the U.S. Department of Education as a nationally recognized accrediting agency and is a recognized member of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.