Always treat nurses with care
If you want better health care, one of the best moves you can make is to get to know your nurses. This holds true in any medical situation: in the doctor's office, in the hospital, when you're the patient or when you're accompanying one.
Nurses are the liaison between patients and doctors, today more than ever. Statistics tell us that doctors now spend just 15-20 minutes with each patient. Nurses, although also very busy, spend more time with patients than any other health care professional.
No wonder nurses continue to be the most trusted professionals in the U.S. According to Gallup's just-released annual survey, Americans rank nursing as the most honest, ethical occupation -- yes, ahead of doctors. They have for the last 18 years.
More than the eyes and ears of the doctor, nurses are an excellent, accessible source of information and support for patients. For example:
• Should your doctor end a visit before you're ready, his or her nurse can explain your medical condition, medications, etc., in more detail. Often, confused patients are afraid to question their doctor -- nurses are used to fill in the blanks. • In the hospital, nurses can keep you apprised of what's happening next. What time is the specialist making rounds? What's the expected timing for that test? Often, they can help you feel more in control.
• In both situations, nurses can help you better understand -- and therefore follow -- your treatment plan. More than half of discharged patients forget their follow-up instructions. Asking your nurse to review it one more time will help you comply, which can improve your outcome.
Five ways to engage with nurses
Like everything else, there's a right and wrong way to communicate with nurses, especially in a hospital setting. Here's some tips for getting it right.
1. Be courteous. Say please and thank you, even if you don't feel well. Don't be "that patient."
2. Be patient. Due to shrinking hospital budgets, nurses are overworked. It's OK to ask for something more than once, but be nice about it.
3. Be respectful. Don't talk to nurses when they're dispensing your meds or taking your vitals -- it's distracting. Wait until they're done. Don't be angry or lash out at nurses, even when you're in pain.
4. Be grateful. If you're visiting a family member, occasionally bring cookies or candy for the nursing staff. If you're the patient, asked your loved ones to do so. Nurses deal with some very tough stuff; it can make their day to know they're appreciated.
5. Be engaging. Ask nurses innocuous questions about themselves: how long have you worked here? If you're a frequent visitor, just wearing trendy shoes or jewelry can be a conversation starter.
6. Be thoughtful. When you or your loved one is discharged, a thoughtful token of appreciation is a wonderful way to acknowledge their care. It could be as simple as a rose or asking if you could fill out a commendation form that's usually located at the nurses' station.
In short, in today's overwhelming, profit-minded health care system, nurses can be your most valuable ally -- especially if you treat them that way.
• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for more than 30 years, she recently founded Seniors Alone Guardianship & Advocacy Services (SeniorsAlone.org), a not-for-profit organization that serves the area's senior orphans. She also is the founder of NShore Patient Advocates, www.northshorern.com.