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How Practice Nurses Contribute To Preventative Healthcare

Photo: How Practice Nurses Contribute To Preventative Healthcare
Practice nurses are typically found working within the community treating patients of all ages and backgrounds in GP practices and in health centres.

They have a wide range of responsibilities which can include but are by no means limited to the following:

  • Carrying out physical examinations, cervical smears and pregnancy tests
  • Providing urgent first aid medical treatment, and treating minor injuries as well as applying and removing bandage dressings
  • Offering advice and educational information in regards to health conditions, losing weight and quitting smoking or drinking
  • Administering injections, vaccinations and immunisations
  • Taking vital patient samples, such as blood pressure, pulse, swabs, blood and urine
  • Running clinics for patients with particular conditions such as diabetes or asthma.
Thanks to this direct interaction with such a large and diverse group of people in the community, practice nurses undoubtedly play an important role in offering preventive healthcare education.

Preventive healthcare has become a popular aspect of the healthcare system. It works on the principle that by educating communities on how they can adapt a healthier lifestyle, and access treatment early on when they fall ill, they can avoid further critical health conditions.

Practice nurses contribute to preventive healthcare by helping their patients identify signs of poor health. The nurses use evidence-based recommendations to encourage and stimulate patients to improve their health status. This can be done by seeking precautionary measures such as screening services and counselling to reduce the risk of health complications and development of disease. These small but important gestures can help to motivate a healthier lifestyle for more people.

The most common issues and concerns a preventive health care practice nurse will discuss with patients can involve:

  • Promotion of regular exercise; ideally half an hour of moderate activity, five days a week. This can improve blood pressure, as well as minimise the risk and complications associated with heart conditions, diabetes and arthritis.
  • Weight management; preventive care focuses on maintaining a healthy weight through exercise and a healthy, varied diet. Weight management refers to both overweight and underweight people. When an individual is at an unhealthy weight they are at higher risk of cardiovascular issues and osteoarthritis.
  • Quitting smoking and other forms of drug abuse; other than the threat of severe addiction, smoking and drug abuse can both massively increase the risk of cancers and breathing disorders.
  • Moderate alcohol intake; by educating individuals about the risks associated with alcohol and offering screening tests early on for diseases such as liver disease and high blood pressure, a significant number of illnesses can be prevented.
  • Control of existing conditions; if an individual has an existing health condition then education and lifestyle behaviour changes can both help to control and even minimise the effects of the condition.

Preventive healthcare covers a large variety of techniques in regards to identifying, educating, preventing and even treating diseases. This is why the role of preventive healthcare can be broken down into primary, secondary, and tertiary types of prevention.

Primary Prevention

These are the steps taken to give individuals the information and education they require in order to prevent the onset of particular diseases. Nurses are largely responsible for educating and counselling individuals to promote positive and healthy behaviour (as discussed above) as well as offering vaccines and immunisations. Primary healthcare prevention is usually the most economically friendly method of healthcare.

Secondary Prevention

Secondary healthcare prevention systems can be defined as methods which aim to detect via active regular screening, and promptly treat any diseases early on. This method minimises the chances of the disease being spread to others, as well as the chance of further complications as a result of the disease.

Tertiary Prevention

Tertiary prevention focuses on management of existing health conditions in patients. Practice nurses can work with patients to carry out care plans and encourage patients to modify and stick to healthier lifestyle choices. The main focus of tertiary healthcare prevention is to minimise any negative effects and complications of living with a disease.

An Australian qualitative study carried out in 2012, which looked at the potential roles for practice nurses in preventive healthcare for young people, found that there is a psychosocial health burden on young people and that they do face barriers in accessing healthcare. However both the nurses and young people felt that a healthcare system which involved nurses with good communication skills and training on how to counsel young people would massively benefit both parties.

Many young people reported that although they would happily welcome discussions and advice from practice nurses on prevalent health issues such as contraception, sexually transmitted infections, and substance abuse, few would go so far as openly discussing mental health and risk taking behaviours. The reasons cited behind these findings included feeling uncomfortable talking to a healthcare provider in a non-youth friendly environment, fears of patient confidentiality, and uncertainty on where to go to discuss such health concerns.

Overall however, it is clear that practice nurses play an important role in preventive healthcare as they are able to offer information on a range of topics to individuals as well as take steps to assist in the prevention or onset of disease and complications.

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