Symbiotic relationships in patients' engagements with practice nurses
Practice nurses engaging with patients is a daily activity in general practice. However, there is little research to assess these relationships from a primary health care, general practice standpoint. The purpose of this new and original research was to explore from patients' perspectives what occurs in general practice, and to establish how the engagements patients have with practice nurses influences patients' health and well-being. The conceptualisation of symbiotic relationships between practice nurses, general practitioners receptionists and patients described in this study, shows how these relationships work in practice, and how they shaped patients' perspectives of their engagements in the general practice setting. Although each person’s role was independent and capable of existing without the other, a mutually beneficial close association was developed. From the experiences of 15 patients from seven rural and urban general practices in New Zealand, using Narrative Inquiry methodology informed by life course theory and White’s (2010) dimensions of well-being, the co-constructed stories gathered from the participants were analysed applying a modification of McCormack’s (2001) multiple lens model. Findings from the individual participant stories revealed three major themes – general practice activity, health focused practice, and professional comforting. Each of these themes described aspects of the participants' relationships and engagements with practice nurses that contributed to their health and well-being. The co-constructed stories described participants' relationships and engagements, not only with practice nurses but also with general practitioners and receptionists. The presence of the (often unseen) overarching doctor and of practice nurses filling the gap in patients' care was evident. Patients described practice nurses as both support for the doctor and as autonomous practitioners. Ease of access to practice nurses significantly contributed to patients obtaining competent health promoting care. Particularly cogent were the findings that practice nurses directly contributed to patients' health and well-being through nurses' skilled compassion and skilled companionship. Nurses actively listened to patients' concerns, suggesting strategies to move patients forward, while at the same time, providing space for them to move at their own pace. Receptionists were viewed as the 'fronts people' of the practice who triaged patients' health concerns, making decisions relating to whom the patient consulted, the doctor or the nurse. By building on existing theories in Narrative Inquiry methodology, data collection and analysis, this research makes an important contribution to nursing knowledge. It provides new perspectives about nurse-patient relationships, as well as other relationships within general practice. The research also demonstrates that while there has been a significant increase in collaboration between nurses and general practitioners over time, this collaboration is distinct from the symbiotic relationships described. The findings have implications for health professionals' everyday practice, and for Primary Health Organisations and District Health Boards when undertaking health professional education and funding reviews. Future research into patients' relationships with practice nurses, doctors and receptionists, and how these relationships contribute to patients' health and well-being is necessary.