In 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report The Future of Nursing: Focus on Education noted that most patients today have chronic conditions rather than acute ones. (The IOM changed its name to the National Academy of Medicine in 2015.) The prevalence of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension is a striking contrast with previous century, when acute care was the norm. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost half of Americans have one or more chronic conditions. These conditions will affect more and more Americans as the population ages. In 2030, one in five patients will be over the age of 65.
When chronic conditions are left untreated, patients experience more serious manifestations of the disease. Yet many chronic diseases stem from preventable risk factors. For example, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension all have roots in behaviors such as overeating, obesity, lack of exercise and smoking. Treatment of chronic diseases therefore must include preventive care as a vital first line of defense. Nursing education, including online RN to BSN programs, must include courses that focus on preventive care.
How Nurses Help Patients in Preventive Care?
Nurses play a vital role in preventive care. Preventive care includes working with patients to modify their behaviors to stop or minimize chronic diseases. Some courses in online RN to BSN programs will focus on helping patients by educating them on risks and promoting healthy lifestyles. Nurses counsel patients on serious risk factors such as obesity, lack of exercise and smoking. They also emphasize good disease management practices, such as compliance with prescribed medications.
Part of the nurse’s role in preventive care is to use their background in psychology and behavioral change to counsel patients about changing risk behaviors. Healthcare providers are introducing substance abuse cessation programs, and nurses are playing leading roles.
Nurses can give advice on weight loss programs and exercise by partnering with dieticians and community organizations, using the team focus, which is increasingly prevalent in healthcare settings. These programs include promoting healthier lifestyles and wellness.
Helping the Family Helps Patients
Chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure can affect entire families. Sociocultural or economic factors might contribute to them. Familial factors like racial or ethnic identity may influence food choices. Families may not know the elements of a healthy diet, or they may live in “food deserts” — places without easily accessible grocery stores. Because of their interaction with patients, the nurse’s role in preventive care includes observing the many factors that contribute to chronic conditions.
While the patient is of primary importance in patient-centered care, preventive care must focus on the entire family. Lifestyle modifications and chronic disease management can be integrated more easily if the provider educates the entire family on the benefits.
In addition, focusing on the family increases the reach of preventive care. A healthcare professional might tell a 45-year-old mother to exercise and to eat more fruits and vegetables as a way of controlling her high blood pressure. Her 15-year-old daughter, following the same principles of healthy eating, may never develop high blood pressure at all.
Helping the Community Helps Patients
Nurses are positioned to see larger patterns in communities. Nursing education often focuses on the community as a contributor to wellness. The nurse’s role in preventive care includes seeing patients in community settings, such as schools, corporations or shopping malls. Nurses in these settings will see sociodemographic trends and how preventive care can play a role.
A nurse practicing in a school, for example, might see that students think smoking is cool. An effective preventive care strategy is knowing when the beliefs of the student affect the decisions that may be harmful to their health. A nurse taking blood pressure readings at a local mall might see large percent of the population with elevated blood pressure. The nurse can counsel people on the benefits of reducing high blood pressure and suggest that they see a physician.
Finally, being out in the community itself can be part of preventive care. Patients may be much more comfortable discussing their conditions with a nurse who is already a part of their community. The nurse is around when they are working or shopping. It is much easier for patients to talk to someone in their community than it is to make an appointment with a physician.
Prevention is crucial in the treatment of the chronic conditions that are so widespread in the U.S. It is important for online RN to BSN programs to include courses on preventive and community care. Nurses in these courses will learn how to advise patients with chronic conditions on lifestyle changes and disease management. They will also learn how to work with entire families and communities to institute widespread preventive care measures.
Learn more about the LSUA online RN to BSN program.
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