Critical Thinking in Nursing Improves Patient Care

Critical Thinking in Nursing Improves Patient Care

Caring for a human being is something that comes to many quite naturally and instinctively. To some, however, caring, especially for an unfamiliar person does not come naturally. This can be especially difficult if the person happens to be a patient under your watch.  It can be easy to let the daily grind of work interfere with your ability to care and your ability to truly think.  Combining the use of your intuition and compassion with your healthcare knowledge is essential to provide great to another human being.

As healthcare leaders, one of our roles is to help people tap into their critical thinking skills.  We must ask the tough, thought-provoking questions that will help our team develop a questioning attitude and, more importantly, develop the ability to problem solve.  We must push them to use these skills to positively affect the life of each and every patient under their watch.

Consider a patient that your staff has been caring for the last week.  The patient wants to go home but their back pain prevents them from walking up stairs into their home.  Some employees might say, "Oh well, nothing we can do."  Others will use their critical thinking skills to brainstorm alternatives to solving the problem.   

As a healthcare provider, it is our mission to help our patients achieve the best state of health possible given their situation.  As our patients improve, they hope to leave the hospital and return to the comfort of their own home as quickly as possible.  For the patient described above, you can choose to do nothing and let the patient lay in bed and decline.  Or, you can critically think of ideas to assist this patient so they can return home as they wish. 

When pressed to find a solution, you should ask questions.  What is the obstacle?  What are possible solutions?  What resources are available to this patient?  What resources do you have?  Who can we include in this discussion that might be able to help find a solution?  In this situation you can create a custom and creative way to accommodate this patient. A simple solution might be to have an ambulance transfer the patient back to their apartment.  You might arrange for a close relative to stay with the patient until they are well enough to manage the stairs unassisted.  You could schedule home health care, assistants and home physical therapy. 

We are entrusted with the lives of patients and it's up to us to be their advocate. They are trusting us to help guide them to the best solution possible. Treat them like family. If this were your mother or child, what would you have done differently?  Making it your mission to care for a parent like family can help you as you continue to critically think for your patient. The care of a patient is personal, very personal to them.  Patients share very personal information with us as caretakers that they may not even tell a spouse or loved one. What is routine to us, could have a pivotal and long-lasting effect on our patient's entire life.

4 Ways to think critically to improve patient care:

1) Make it personal.Advocate for your patient as if they were a member of your family   would you make the same decision about patient care if it were a family member your were caring for?  Would you do just one more check of a policy or practice if it were your child?  

 2) When you hit a brick wall just change direction and keep on going. Speak up. Don't be afraid to work the chain of command and ask questions.  You need to share the responsibility of decision-making. A patient's life is on the line. It's okay to say, "I don't know," or "can you help me understand," when talking to someone who doesn't agree with your assessment.  If you are told no, and still believe you are right or need more information, call a supervisor. Talk to a peer.  Call another leader.  There are numerous leaders in hospitals-talk to someone.  Don't just give up.  You are the advocate for your patients.  

3) Always ask questions and think of if/then scenarios to find the best possible solution for your patient. "If we help Suzie do xyz, then the result will be __________. "  Some questions have multiple right answers or have no good answer.  Discuss options with peers and your patient.  

4) Train your brain to be proactive. Think through the different scenarios. Push your comfort zone to the limits. It's worth it. Your patients and your healthcare organization will thank you.

 When you use critical thinking skills in addition to compassion, you can truly make a difference in the lives of your patients. 

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