Preventive health is growing in popularity as people seek to improve their overall health and wellness by making better choices. Nurse practitioners are greatly involved with this effort, since preventive health can reduce and prevent disease. When working toward a master’s degree in nursing, you can learn more about your role as a nurse in sharing the importance of disease prevention and healthy living to patients and members of your community.
Below, explore some ways that health promotion and disease prevention are important parts of a nurse’s job:
Sharing Information and Developing Community Programs
Nurses and nurse practitioners are often focused on not only direct patient care, but also disease prevention. An important element in disease prevention is sharing knowledge about diseases and how to protect patients from them. Nurses can share information in many ways, including through community education sessions and during one-on-one counseling sessions with patients who are under their care. When patients understand the risks of certain lifestyle choices, they have the knowledge to start making changes. Educating the public on the importance of regular exercise, for instance, may be a place to start.
Secondary prevention is another key element in health promotion. This focuses on a specific patient instead of a group of people in a community, relating more to a patient’s susceptibility and risk factors of contracting certain diseases. If a doctor or nurse discovers that a patient has a disease, secondary prevention focuses on limiting the spreading of disease as well as checking for risk of infection.
When developing a prevention program in your community, you can help health care professionals with whom you work focus on more specific concerns, especially if you live in an area that has high rates of obesity, drug and alcohol abuse, tobacco use, or poor nutrition.
Teaching about the Dangers of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Drug Use
Addictions to alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs are ever-present concerns. Research has linked excessive consumption of alcohol to increased risk for liver disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. Other risks of alcohol use include risky behaviors, social problems, loss of employment and strained relationships with family members, and trouble with learning and memory functions. Driving while under the influence is extremely dangerous, yet some people have a false sense of their abilities when drinking heavily. Nurses can spot the indicators of alcoholism and educate patients and their families about the dangers and signs to look for. They can also provide materials and important resources for getting help.
Smoking can cause lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other health problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smokers are 12 to 13 times more likely to die from COPD than nonsmokers. Nearly 90 percent of the cases of lung cancer are also related to smoking. Secondhand smoke has also been connected to higher rates of ear infections, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory infections, and frequent, severe asthma attacks in infants and children. Nurses can help smokers by offering information and support and applying their knowledge toward tobacco cessation program planning and implementation, for example.
Drug abuse affects the user’s mind and body in many ways. According to information from a national drug and alcohol treatment center, more deaths, disabilities, and illnesses result from substance abuse than from any other preventable health condition. Health problems that can come from abusing drugs include nausea, vomiting, seizures, strokes, cardiovascular conditions, and weakened immune systems. Nurses are trained to recognize and treat the indicators of drug abuse. They can offer patients and their families a sense of hope by providing materials and resources for treatment and opening the door to helpful next steps.
Promoting Regular Health Checkups
Regular health assessments are key elements of health promotion and disease prevention. When a patient has an established relationship with a primary care provider, that provider can look for changes through regular screenings. When patients visit the doctor at least once a year, they can reduce the risks of a health problem going undetected.
When developing programs for prevention in their communities, nurses may want to consider raising the issue of free health screenings as part of a health facility’s public outreach and educational programming. Helping patients understand their rights and benefits can also aid in disease prevention, since health insurance plans can cover annual preventive checkups and vaccines.
Managing existing health conditions is also part of the preventive care process, as certain behaviors can reduce symptoms or better manage diseases altogether. With regular counseling and support from nurses and other care team members, patients can take better control of their health to live better, more fulfilling lives.
Offering Follow Up and Support
Patients who are making major lifestyle changes to improve their health and reduce risk of disease often need continued support. Nurses can offer that means of follow-up for their patients and serve as a resource to improve patients’ chances for positive health outcomes. Without a support system in place, patients may redevelop poor health habits or put themselves at risk for developing diseases or worsening existing health conditions.
As health promotion and disease prevention through healthy living and lifestyle changes continue to occupy an important place in medical care, nurses can expect to take more active roles in promoting behaviors that will help patients across the age continuum to improve their health. The responsibility to live a healthier lifestyle ultimately lies in the hands of individuals, but nurses can help to educate, inform, and support those who are willing to take the next steps toward achieving healthier lifestyles for themselves.
If you are working toward advancing your education in nursing, understanding your role in health promotion and disease prevention is critical. With an online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, you might consider becoming a nurse leader, which means you may not only be focused on disease prevention among your patients, but also on the mentorship and education of other nurses in this area. Clearly, whether you strive to become a nurse practitioner or other leader, health promotion is an important area of study.