Essential skills for nurses who want to have an impact on cardiac health
Cardiovascular health is of rising concern for modern health professionals, particularly as more patients show signs of heart disease, the potential for stroke or other cardiovascular-related diseases. In fact, these conditions are on the rise across the globe. Cardiovascular disease is now the world’s leading cause of death, responsible for more than 17.3 million deaths per year, according to the American Heart Association.
When it comes to heart health, cardiovascular disease isn’t the only condition that deserves attention. Health risks like heart disease, stroke and sudden cardiac arrest are also increasing:
● An American is diagnosed with heart disease every 42 seconds.
● Stroke is now one of the top five causes of death in the U.S., accounting for 129,000 deaths annually.
● More than 200,000 people experience cardiac arrest while in the hospital. Overall, only about 12 percent of individuals who have cardiac arrest outside of a hospital survive.
As these conditions continue to impact patients and family members, it’s important for nurses and health professionals to make efforts to help slow the rising number of cases while encouraging healthy habits. To make a difference here, nurses should obtain specialized skills.
Examine cardiac risk factors
Before nurses and health professionals can work toward lessening the impact of cardiac diseases, they should first understand the health risks that can cause these conditions.
According to the AHA, there are several factors that can lead to unhealthy cardiac conditions, including stroke, cardiovascular disease and other health issues, including:
● Lack of physical activity: Exercise is key, especially when it comes to one’s heart. However, about 30 percent of adults don’t make time for leisure physical activity, and only about 27 percent of youths meet the AHA’s recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity per day. Increasing daily and weekly exercise can help reduce the chances that a person will be impacted by cardiac diseases.
● Smoking: Tobacco is a leading contributor to poor cardiac health, and even secondhand smoke can be incredibly dangerous for cardiac health. Overall, smoking is among the top three causes of disease, and accounts for 480,000 deaths a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Secondhand smoke alone causes more than 33,000 deaths from heart disease annually. In this way, smokers aren’t just impacting their own cardiac health, but the health of everyone around them.
● Unhealthy diet: The foods included in a person’s diet can have considerable ramifications on his or her cardiac – and overall health. While the AHA observed improved diet scores among both adults and children recently thanks to increased consumption of whole grains and decreased sugar and soda intake, there is still work to be done.
An unhealthy diet can also lead to other risk factors, including obesity and high blood pressure. Most adults today are overweight, and 69 percent are considered overweight or obese, including 1.46 billion adults across the globe. In addition, poor diet can cause high cholesterol – one in every three Americans has high LDL cholesterol levels, and 80 million – or 33 percent – have high blood pressure.
● Diabetes: Individuals who have diabetes are also at a higher risk for poor cardiac health and conditions like stroke or heart attack. Poor diet can lead to diabetes, but other factors like the presence of toxins in food, a viral or bacterial infection and increasing age can also lead to different types of this condition.
Understand cardiovascular disease processes
Once the risk factors that lead to unsafe cardiac health are understood, nurses and health professionals should also examine the processes cardiac diseases follow.
Heart disease and the numerous associated problems are typically related to atherosclerosis, when plaque builds up inside the arteries, lessening the path blood has to flow through. As plaque continues to accumulate, blood flow can be significantly lessened, or even blocked completely if a clot forms.
Depending upon where in the body this happens, it can result in a heart attack or stroke. If blood flow to the heart is blocked by plaque or a blood clot, part of the heart muscle begins to die, and the person experiences a heart attack.
Conversely, a person could have an ischemic stroke if atherosclerosis affects blood vessels near the brain.
While atherosclerosis is one of the most common cardiovascular disease processes, health professionals should also consider processes including congestive heart failure, arrhythmia and heart valve issues, which can also lead to poor cardiac health.
Improve communication skills: Motivational interviewing
When patients are diagnosed with cardiac diseases, it often requires a change in their lifestyle: adjusting their diet, making time for physical activity, taking prescriptions or participating in other treatment. These changes can be difficult for patients to make, but go a long way toward improving their cardiac health. In order to encourage necessary lifestyle adjustments, nurses and health practitioners can improve their communication skills through a technique called motivational interviewing.
Motivational interviewing is cemented in four guiding principles, including:
1. Expressing empathy through reflective listening and a nonjudgmental attitude.
2. Highlighting discrepancies in patients’ current behaviors in an effort to motivate them to make the necessary changes.
3. Accepting patient resistance and not arguing with patients for health adjustments.
4. Encouraging patients’ self-efficacy, and working to make them feel more optimistic about their lifestyle changes and the good it will do for their health.
Check out this article for more tips and best practices on improving communication with patients.
Enhance team-building and interprofessional collaboration
Nurses aren’t the only ones who should be focused on making an impact on cardiac health. Other health professionals, including those involved in public health, should consider this a top priority as well. And when these health professionals work in tandem, the effect they can have on the cardiac health of the local community can be considerable.
For instance, nurses can work with public health educators to spread awareness of the top risk factors leading to poor cardiac health, as well as the best ways to address these issues.
Emphasize care coordination
In this same spirit, it’s also imperative that nurses encourage care coordination among themselves, the patient and any other health professional involved in providing health care services. The American Nurses Association noted that when nurses design and implement plans for care coordination, it results in less emergency room visits, reduced costs for patients, higher survival rates coupled with fewer readmissions, and higher quality of care. Patients participating in these programs are also more confident in their self-management of their health care, and report greater overall satisfaction.
When health professionals work together, it not only benefits the patient, but can streamline nurses’ efforts and boost the chances of advantageous care results.
Highlight quality outcomes and evidence-based care standards
Nurses and health professionals should also work to incorporate evidence-based care standards into their treatment, while highlighting the beneficial outcomes that these types of care can provide for the individual patient.
This strategy is especially helpful for cardiovascular disease processes and chronic conditions as it ensures that care is based on the most up-to-date, hypothesis-driven research. In this way, nurses and health care administrators can use cutting edge treatments to improve patients’ cardiac health and reduce the impact of leading health risks.
Become a team leader
Today’s nurses are in a unique position to help educate patients, team with other health professionals to coordinate care and make a real impact on cardiac health. However, in order for registered nurses to obtain these skills, they require the necessary educational expertise.
A Master of Science in Nursing Clinical Systems Leadership from the University of Arizona is one of the very best ways to achieve the skills necessary. UA’s MSN enables registered nurses to develop their professional skills as they continue their work. And with options for nurses who already hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing — or those looking to skip the BSN — there’s a master’s degree course suited for everyone.
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