About the SeniorAdvisor.com 2014 In-Home Innovation Scholarship: We started the scholarship program to bring awareness of the unique benefits and challenges of in-home caregiving for seniors to younger generations. The questions posed by the scholarship encouraged our nation’s future caregivers to present solutions for improving home care in the United States. College-aged students were required to answer one of the three essay topics below and provide a short bio as part of their scholarship application. Read the winning essays here.
How can your major of study improve the lives of seniors receiving in-home care services?
Essay response by Mary Kimlinger
In his 2012 TedMed talk, physician and journalist Atul Gawande explained a major pitfall in the American healthcare system. He explained how with the onset of greater specialization in medicine came the problem of losing a patient-centered system. Instead of greater collaboration by doctors and medical professionals to treat the patient holistically, Gawande observed that patients find themselves thrown from specialist to specialist without ever getting proper, lasting treatment. Gawande concluded his talk by suggesting a solution to this over-complication of healthcare: We need less cowboys and more pit crews. The brilliant Harvard-trained surgeon and journalist was referring to medicine, but this teamwork approach can also be applied to improve senior in-home care in the United States. Specifically, this team-based model can be directly applied to the nursing field. Nurses play varying roles in senior in-home care. Some nurses work in the home with the seniors while others care for them during hospitalizations. In-home care services by nurses include everything from assisting seniors with taking prescriptions to educating family members on how to best assist their loved ones. Improvement of in-home care services received by seniors starts with nurses who collaborate with the family members, doctors, specialists and seniors themselves.
One way in which nurses can improve the quality of senior in-home services is by integrating the components of senior in-home care through education of the caregivers. Problems often arise when there is miscommunication between the many members of the care team, and nurses can eliminate this by educating the seniors and their caregivers of proper care methods, how to perform everyday tasks, and how to discuss difficult topics with seniors. Seniors and caregivers must be empowered to make informed decisions on an everyday basis. They must integrate their own lifestyles with the doctors’ orders and the capabilities and schedules of the caregivers. Through education, nurses can help with this process and work to prevent unforeseen problems. For example, by offering stress management tips and strategies for discussing difficult topics with seniors such as driving or finances, nurses can empower caregivers to provide excellent care that is tailored to the needs of the senior in a way that minimizes conflict and miscommunication.
Another way in which nurses can improve the lives of seniors receiving in-home care services is by accurately and diligently charting the senior’s progress when he or she has an emergency that places him or her in the hospital. Comprehensive documentation of vital signs, pain updates and physician orders is one of the most important factors that is taken into account when assessing a patient’s status. Mistakes in charting or details that are left out of a chart can mean the difference between providing life-saving treatment and aggravating a preexisting condition. Nurses are responsible for this charting, which is then assessed by the physician so that he or she can decide on the best method of treatment and care. Accurate charting is essential for responsible decision-making in medicine and healthcare. Diligent, yet effective nurses who chart well are part of the solution of improving the lives of seniors living at home.
The field of nursing leads the charge in improving senior in-home care. Nurses are the patient advocates, who through education and proper charting, are vital team members on the “pit crew” of senior in-home care. Excellence in nursing is the solution that will improve the lives of seniors living independently and empower their caregivers to make informed decisions. It has been said that true growth rarely takes place quickly, and this is true of improvement in senior in-home care services. It is the improvement of the everyday decisions and actions of the nurses that care for seniors in and out of the hospital that will lead to improved senior in-home care services. Medicine is no longer a one-size-fits-all endeavor and senior in-home heath care should not be either. The solution that will improve the life of an independent senior is often as unique as the individual himself or herself, and it is up to competent, diligent nurses to provide the documentation needed by the medical team as well as the educational tools needed for caregivers to create unique and effective care plans that lead to the best quality of life for American seniors.
Mary is currently pursuing a nursing degree from Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota.