There are various techniques and approaches in healthcare. One comprises a care pathway to ensure medical professionals adhere to a set process to treat patients and address their medical needs. These practices are tried, tested, and backed up by strong evidence to help provide the best care possible. Here is an explanation of the components of a care pathway, the nurses’ roles, and the benefits to patients and healthcare professionals.
Setting goals is important in healthcare, so following a care pathway can help meet targets on smaller and bigger scales. These goals will be based on factors such as practice, evidence-based results, and the collective expectation of the patients and their relatives. Targets will provide structure and guidance, which are important when dealing with many patients with different health conditions. While no single approach can cover everyone, goals give you something to work towards and are a good starting point. You will still be expected to prioritize when necessary and use purposes alongside your judgment.
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Setting goals in healthcare can be freeing rather than restrictive. While it takes some of the decisions away, it leaves you free to concentrate on the minor details and differences between patients and their health conditions. It also saves time in finding the best outcome to work towards. Once you know what you are aiming for, this presents you with your options and speeds up the process of delivering and improving the quality of care.
Another benefit is providing motivation. It can be easy to focus too much on the wrong tasks when there is no target to work towards. As you and your team get closer to this goal, it can motivate you to continue, knowing how much work is left to do.
Encouraging communication is another vital part of creating and maintaining a care pathway. Nurses need to communicate with their colleagues and outside agencies to ensure the care delivered is consistent and that everyone involved is aware of any important changes to care or anything else that could affect the treatment offered.
The next step is communication between nurses and patients. Having a system for communicating with patients and their relatives ensures that they are kept informed but are not bombarded with too much information or confused by medical jargon they are unlikely to understand.
Examples of a system where information is shared with patients and relatives could include diagnosis guidelines. These could present the treatment options, list specific literature to give out, and websites and hotlines to direct them to support further or where to find answers to questions they may have later. It could include ensuring that a friend or relative is present whenever possible to help the patient recall important details afterward. Giving bad news can overwhelm many people, who rarely act as they think they would. Some can shut off or be in denial. So, when they later need to recall something they were told, they may be unable to. That is why having a system of relaying information to patients in multiple ways can be helpful.
Ultimately, communication is vital in healthcare. Whether it’s used for working effectively with colleagues, making important decisions, increasing efficiency, or involving patients in their healthcare as much as possible, this is at the heart of nursing. So, it makes sense that any care pathway would include communication guidelines to benefit nursing staff, patients, and their families.
Monitoring and assessment
The care pathway approach also helps with monitoring and assessment to continually adapt and improve the services and quality of care nurses can deliver. Nursing is a fast-paced career. If something isn’t working or could be adjusted to increase results and efficiency, it is important to be aware of this quickly. By constantly monitoring your approaches, you can spot potential problems or ways of making significant improvements. Even small improvements can be better than using the same ineffective methods.
Embracing technology can be helpful on a larger scale because quantitative data can be used to see a bigger picture, not just for the medical practice or hospital you work at but for the state or the country. Data is important in many jobs now. Qualitative data focusing on individual cases might be more detailed but limited because it concentrates on individuals or smaller groups. If there is a wider problem, for example, a rise in heart disease, then changes may need to be made on a broader scale. Spotting a pattern can be more helpful than providing evidence based on just a small number of cases, which may not be relevant in a more general sense.
The CDC estimates that 40% of annual deaths from five leading causes are preventable. This highlights the need for regular change as and when new information becomes available, or new methods of treating or preventing these are introduced. Monitoring and making changes can reduce the number of people dying from injuries and diseases like heart disease, respiratory diseases, strokes, and cancer.
The care pathway approach helps when obtaining resources. Although your choice to pursue nursing is to help people, medical establishments are still a business. So, unless something is cost-effective and in demand, those in charge of resources will unlikely budget much or anything to provide it.
If you can use some of the ways mentioned earlier, such as getting quantitative information from data, you are more likely to obtain the required resources. This can make your job easier when these are needed, either in an emergency or on short notice, to treat someone with any condition that worsens the longer it goes untreated.
Having goals to work towards and communicating effectively can only be successful if you have the resources you need or can access them quickly. Having guidance in obtaining these resources saves time, gets the most cost-effective method of securing them, and ensures that the same high-quality level of care can continue without disruptions.
For many people needing healthcare, consistent care is key to long-term improvements. Medications can take time to work. Any break from taking these can mean the patient must start again with little or no progress. Availability also reduces costs for them because a full course of uninterrupted treatment will be cheaper than several interrupted courses where their condition stays the same or deteriorates while waiting for the resources they need. They could also need to be hospitalized more frequently, which can be costly.
Ensuring clarity of responsibility
Healthcare is a wide career choice and includes many different health professionals. You rarely work alone as a nurse, even if you are the first person to deal with a patient. Knowing your responsibilities and those that need to be left to other, more qualified professionals can prevent you from making the wrong choices. Although nursing is a career where teamwork is essential, having guidelines as part of the care pathway will help clarify processes and protocols.
You can sometimes use your initiative and take on tasks outside of your general role. Usually, you’re experienced and confident in carrying out those tasks. Still, even if you’re accustomed to seeing other professionals carry out different tasks, it may be best to resort to other methods until they can help if the situation isn’t an emergency. Having a process to follow helps you quickly assess the risks of not acting or trying something else against using simple methods.
Knowing who to contact is another time-saving method and is vital in healthcare. It can save lives or at least help avoid complications. It can save lives or at least help avoid complications. Often, decisions need to be made quickly, and having clarity over who is responsible in any specific situation can help you get hold of the right person in the least amount of time.
The other major benefit of having clarity about who is responsible or assigned to various tasks is avoiding possible lawsuits against you and your place of work. These can be costly and ruin your career, leaving you unable to help other patients in the future.
Further benefits to patients
Care pathways have several benefits to the patient, some of which have been mentioned briefly. One example is reducing treatment that isn’t needed. Having the guidelines and using your informed judgment will help you narrow down the best treatments for your patient. There may be other complications, meaning one treatment that works for others would either be ineffective or aggravate a pre-existing health problem. That is why guidance on treating patients with multiple diagnoses is beneficial in nursing.
Other benefits include reducing the cost for the patient. Getting to the root of the problem and curing or managing it means fewer visits to their doctor or the hospital and fewer medical bills overall. Patients can be concerned about costs because, despite their best efforts, it is usually impractical to prepare financially for every possible health complication they may experience. Aside from medical bills, even basic treatments for non-serious illnesses can involve the cost of travel and time off work. Stress can factor in recovery time for some health problems or cause other issues. Stress can factor in recovery time for some health problems or cause further issues. So, alleviating their financial stress will give them one less thing to worry about.
For patients, anything that means more time with their loved ones and enjoying a better quality of life is preferable. If you have a specific system in place, even those with a more serious diagnosis will get the most out of the time they have left. The fewer appointments or stays in the hospital, the more time this gives them quality time with the people they love and spend their time doing what they choose. Following the guidelines of a care pathway makes this possible while still ensuring high-quality care is delivered.
Further benefits to nurses
Nurses often have a challenging but rewarding role in delivering care to their patients. Care pathways make it possible to work with other agencies, particularly if they share similar guidelines. Alternatively, those who have different processes will at least be easier to understand if you know how they work and develop their services to patients.
It also removes some of the uncertainty. It allows nurses to feel confident when looking after patients and making important decisions. Still, they know when they need another opinion or who to refer their patients.
Nursing can still be uncertain at times. One approach that usually works may not be 100% effective for everyone. Knowing the next step when something does not work is reassuring to the nurse and the patient. When working in nursing, you need to offer reassurance, but this cannot be easy if you feel unsure. So, having a logical next step and explaining this in a way patients and their relatives understand will make them feel better and more likely to accept treatment.
It can be frightening for patients experiencing poor health and conditions they never thought would happen to them. Any uncertainty you demonstrate could result in them choosing not to undertake the recommended treatment, which could worsen their health, make further medical help more costly, and stretch the resources available, making your role more challenging.
The role nurses have in developing a care pathway
There are lots of ways nurses can help to develop care pathways. Research is one, but this does not always stem from great studies. During your daily tasks, while looking after patients, you are likely to spot patterns and similarities. If these are relatively new, you can highlight them and the need for further research if necessary. This can confirm a change in the way things need to be done.
Highlighting potential problems based on your and your colleagues’ experiences is a good start in adapting care pathways. Your role means you get first-hand experience of seeing how patients react to treatment, any worrying patterns in specific illnesses or diseases, and anything significant. By drawing attention to these, you can help to slow down the problem and find viable solutions. It may not be specified in your job description, but as an experienced nurse, if you think something could be changed and have a strong argument to support your thinking, it makes sense to share this with the relevant people.
As you are also one of the people impacted by changes in the workplace and how care is delivered, it makes sense to have some input wherever possible. If something seems impossible to achieve, suggesting a viable alternative can help everyone, from you and your team to your patients and management.
You know the desired outcomes, and what has previously worked places you in the best position to redefine targets. You can understand the wider issues faced by your colleagues and the patients you care for and share your deeper understanding of potential barriers to any suggested changes.
Not having access to it could mean using costlier and less effective alternatives. Not having access to it could mean using more expensive and less effective options. For example, it may seem like money can be saved by cutting back on a specific resource that is rarely used, but your experience may be that the help is the most effective for its intended use on the few occasions it is used. So, it would make sense to keep this, even if it is rarely needed, because of the positive results when it is.
As you can see, care pathways are important in the smooth running of medical settings and in ensuring nurses have a guide when trying to help patients. They can help provide up-to-date information, procedures are adapted, resources are available, quality of care is delivered, and patients are offered the best and most cost-effective treatment methods, among other benefits.