How nurse practitioners can promote preventative healthcare

HomeArticlesHow nurse practitioners can promote preventative healthcare

Preventative care is an underappreciated but vital part of the healthcare process. There is a well-known saying that prevention is better than cure, and it is only common sense to observe that if you can stop people from getting ill in the first place, this is a better solution than treating patients after the fact.

In practice, any functioning healthcare service will prioritize treating those already ill and preventative care for those still in good health. There is no clear distinction between prevention and treatment, as the latter includes nurses and other healthcare professionals working with patients to prevent an illness or condition from worsening. Nevertheless, preventative healthcare refers specifically to interventions and education to promote health awareness and healthier lifestyles, reduce risk factors, and minimize the spread of disease through methods such as screening for early detection of illnesses such as cancer.

Duty of care

Nurse practitioners work alongside other health professionals to provide these services and care for those already ill or injured. Preventative care is part of the duty of all those working in the nursing field, but those with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) are best able to use all the methods of preventative healthcare available due to their more specialized training and greater responsibilities.

Nurses with an online Associate Degree in Nursing are specialized nurse practitioners with an MSN. Nurses wishing to obtain an MSN degree and specialize in a particular nurse practitioner concentration can do so at Wilkes University, which offers a BSN to MSN program that enables registered nurses to study further in as little as two years. This program is completed online, which gives students some flexibility. This online program includes diagnostic reasoning for nurse practitioners, which develops their skills in formulating different diagnoses of acute, chronic physical and mental illnesses in primary care settings. This skill and knowledge will aid nurses with this qualification to educate their patients in preventative care.

Defining preventative healthcare

Some familiar examples of preventative care include vaccinations, cancer screenings, and nationwide health education campaigns. All of these can be seen as attempts either to stop individuals or population groups from getting ill in the first place or to detect and treat illness while it is still in its early stages and the prognosis for recovery is more hopeful.

Addressing environmental issues like pollution, poor housing, and lack of access to clean drinking water, all of which have an immediate detrimental effect on human health, also falls under the remit of preventative care.

The role of nurse practitioners

More than other healthcare professionals, nurses are on the front line of preventative care. This is partly because nursing is a people-focused profession, and a large part of a nurse’s day-to-day responsibilities involve educating patients and the wider population, either formally or informally. Nurses are also the leading conductors of tests and screenings for specific conditions and diseases. They may lobby government or private companies on ways to improve overall health standards.

Nurses administer immunizations and vaccinations for diseases from measles and chickenpox to flu and Covid-19. Some of these shots may be given only once or twice in a lifetime, for instance, to immunize children against dangerous illnesses that, because of widespread vaccination, are now thankfully rare in the US. Others may be given annually, such as regular flu shots for older individuals or those at higher risk.

Where vaccinations and immunizations are voluntary, nurses may work to educate and inform communities about the advantages of being immunized, emphasizing how not having a shot may put their friends and families at risk, as well as themselves. Encouraging people and communities to take greater responsibility for their health is vital to a preventative care strategy.

Changing lives

A nurse usually carries out annual checkups with a GP or a family doctor. In addition, to conducting routine tests of a patient’s blood pressure and cholesterol levels and assessing their body mass index (BMI), a nurse will often talk to them about any concerns that could lead to otherwise undetected health risks being identified. A nurse may also advise them on preventative health measures they can take into account.

Drinking less, giving up smoking, adopting a healthier diet, and getting regular exercise are all well-known steps we can take to reduce the risk of becoming ill, live longer, and generally feel better both mentally and physically. Often, however, it takes a nurse to encourage positive changes in behavior or lifestyle. Nurses may need to emphasize the urgency of making such changes with some patients. Shock tactics may be necessary, like pointing out their reduced life expectancy if they continue down their current path. Once a patient has committed to changing their behavior, a nurse can help them plan and offer support in making changes safely and permanently.

Additional factors

However, the factors that contribute to poor health are not always ones that an individual can easily change. They may be generated by the patient’s home or working environment or consist of inherited genetics that put them at higher risk for certain conditions than most people. In such cases, nurses advise patients on managing risks, monitoring their health and, if possible, finding ways to improve their immediate situation, such as moving to a different area or finding a new job more conducive to good health.

Preventative care isn’t confined to physical illnesses. Addressing common mental health problems like depression or anxiety can stop these from developing into debilitating or life-threatening conditions later. Sometimes, nurses are the best people to facilitate effective communication, for instance, helping parents talk to depressed teenagers. Unfortunately, mental health issues are often ignored or overlooked until they reach a crisis point. Acknowledging a problem like depression is the first step towards seeking help and finding ways to recognize, manage and minimize the symptoms.

Saving money and saving lives

Preventative healthcare is not just humane but efficient, too. Even if you receive the best possible treatment and eventually make a full recovery, most people will agree that they would instead not get ill in the first place. Similarly, preventing illness before ongoing treatment is required saves money, frees up much-needed resources, and eases the burden on healthcare providers. The fewer people who get ill, the more active members of society there are, contributing to the economy and helping others.

Statistics suggest that roughly 60% of deaths in the US every year are due to chronic conditions and are theoretically preventable. Conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease cost the US economy billions of dollars every year. Much of the $4.5 trillion spent annually on healthcare in the US goes towards treating and managing these conditions. Therefore, preventative healthcare can cut costs as well as reduce suffering.

Common health problems like obesity, asthma, and diabetes cost the economy severely due to people being unable to work, working less efficiently, or having to take frequent time off. The cost can also be measured in human potential. People are less able to realize their hopes, dreams, and ambitions due to chronic health conditions that could be prevented.

Helping patients

Nurses can share information with patients, point them toward appropriate resources, and discuss options to improve their health prospects. They can be able to refer them to other services and treatments like physiotherapy or book them for further screenings or tests.

Identifying at-risk patients can be a first step toward preventative action. Age, sex, family background, and social/economic status are all factors that should be considered when establishing a patient’s risk profile. These factors are also intersectional. A middle-aged individual from a poor background with a family history of chronic illness may be at greater risk of age-associated conditions like strokes or diabetes than an older person from a more comfortable environment.

Nurses will give patients advice and information appropriate to their needs. When preventative care can be tailored to the person concerned, it is usually more effective than a one-size-fits-all approach. Nurses also play a crucial role in facilitating access to services, especially for individuals and families who may miss out on essential preventative healthcare that they are entitled to due to a lack of information or encouragement.

Primary prevention

Major health organizations, including the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), divide preventative care into primary, secondary, and tertiary. Primary prevention covers measures taken to stop illness or injury from happening. This is mainly delivered through education, providing information to individuals and communities through one-on-one counseling and advice, targeted distribution of information (for instance, handing out or posting leaflets to vulnerable demographics), mass media campaigns, and group discussions at local drop-in centers.

In some cases, primary preventative care may be enshrined in law, such as the requirement to wear a seatbelt while traveling in an automobile or a crash helmet on a motorcycle. Vaccinations and immunizations also count as primary prevention. When these methods are successful, they are the most effective approaches to minimizing suffering and incapacity. However they are also the most economical forms of healthcare, saving the US vast amounts of money in treatment costs and loss of labor.

Secondary prevention

Secondary prevention focuses on early detection of illness and identifying individuals at high risk of developing a condition or disease. While high-risk individuals may be given information to help them stay healthy as a form of primary prevention, secondary prevention is concerned with administering treatment while the illness is still in its early stages. This gives a greater chance of a positive outcome than if a disease is treated after it has advanced to a stage where it is easily detectable. This method also saves money in the long run.

Nurses contribute to secondary prevention by providing screening services, conducting blood tests, and making risk assessments through interviews and observation. Following a diagnosis, they can recommend courses of action such as lifestyle changes, medication to control symptoms, and ongoing monitoring of a patient’s health status.

Tertiary prevention

Tertiary prevention comes into play when primary and secondary prevention methods have failed. All three approaches are used concurrently by health services as patients enter the system at different stages of health. Tertiary prevention involves managing an existing condition or illness, slowing or halting its progress and preventing future complications. Nurses may collaborate with patients to create an effective care plan that includes further lifestyle changes and anticipates different scenarios, from worst to best case.

Many chronic conditions can be managed effectively so that patients can enjoy independent, fulfilling lives. Tertiary prevention works to stop an existing condition from becoming more debilitating and to preserve a patient’s quality of life as much as possible.

Daily routine

Nurse practitioners can practice preventive healthcare daily through interactions with patients, patients’ families, and the wider public. Every professional conversation should be seen as an opportunity to impart health advice or help individuals be more proactive about managing their health.

Nurses should call on their excellent people skills and ability to read the room to be most effective in this respect. Coming over as preachy, pushy, or over-earnest can be counterproductive, and a little humor goes a long way towards sweetening the pill. Helping people to help themselves works better than telling them what to do in a stern, authoritarian manner, although sometimes the latter approach may also be necessary. Some individuals may need a ‘pep talk’ to motivate them to act. Others need concrete information or practical assistance.

Reaching out

Nurses can also act as effective role models for healthy living, demonstrating how patients can feel better and be happier by making positive changes. They may also go out into the community, reaching people before they need to use health services. In many cases, once people are in the health system as patients, the moment for primary prevention has passed.

Taking the message of positive health behavior into places where people congregate and may listen, from churches to shopping malls, hairdressers to bars, is one of the most effective forms of preventative healthcare that a qualified nurse practitioner can engage in.

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