Facilitating Patient Voice: A Case Study on Advance Directives and the Primary Health Nurse
Advance directives are just one aspect of advance care planning. According to the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, advance directives are becoming increasingly common in New Zealand. Nurses are well positioned to take on an increasing role in advance directives, particularly in view of the expected burgeoning older population to which New Zealand is no exception. The literature suggests there is a role for primary health nurses in advance directives but no literature to date is available on this role in the New Zealand context. The aim of this research was to determine primary health nurses' role in advance directives. A qualitative case study research approach was used to explore the knowledge, attitudes, experiences, and involvement of primary health nurses in advance directives. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 13 senior primary health nurses from one New Zealand province. Two propositions informed the analysis: 1) primary health nurses currently do not have a role in advance directives; and 2) primary health nurses believe that advance directives can promote effective-end-of-life care. Watson's Theory of Human Caring was used as the theoretical framework to guide the study. Three themes were identified from the analysis: encountering challenges, facilitating patient voice, and valuing the person. The findings revealed that primary health nurses had little or no significant experience or involvement in advance directives. Participants described knowledge inconsistencies about advance directives, in particular to related legalities. Nevertheless, participants had positive attitudes towards advance directives and believed there was a role for primary health nurses in early advance directive conversations. They emphasised the importance of teamwork and envisaged their role as one of support to both the patient and doctor. Caring praxis underpinned the nurses' positive attitudes towards advance directives. These caring behaviours sustained the core values of patient autonomy and patient advocacy considered fundamental to sensitive advance directive conversations. Many challenges were identified in terms of the nurse's role in advanced directives. These included cultural considerations for Māori in order to respect The Treaty of Waitangi principles and attending to the cultural needs of the individual Pacific Island groupings. Other challenges included unclear guidelines, unclear role delineation, ethical dilemmas and fragmented or complex communication issues across the primary/secondary health sector. Results of this study may inform nurses of the need to establish nurse–patient relationships built upon trust and positive regard in order to support patients in advanced directive discussions. Implications for nurse educators include incorporating education directed at empowering nurses to participate in ethical decision making to enhance patients' end-of-life care. Given the importance of the multi-disciplinary responsibility in establishing advance directives, there is a need for further research regarding how health professionals could function together in the role of advance directive communication to best meet patients' needs.