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Almost 40% of U.S. patients routinely use alternative medicine. That number is consistently increasing as alternative methods become more widely available.
However, not as many patients inform their physicians about their preferences. It’s easy for the average patient to fear potential stigmas or judgment by their doctors, so they keep quiet about wanting to know more about alternative options.
As a nurse, you can mediate between patients and doctors. You might not be able to make medical decisions. Still, you can serve as an informed and educated communicator, explaining to doctors why certain patients prefer alternative medications and informing your patients about the impact those alternative solutions can have — positive or negative.
Let’s take a closer look at how you can serve patients who prefer alternative medicine and why it’s becoming more popular.
The Rise of Medical Skepticism
Some people have preferred alternative medicine for years. However, one of the biggest reasons it’s growing in popularity so quickly is the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, and even now, people are looking toward herbal remedies, vitamins, and other holistic methods to help treat certain conditions — or at least the associated symptoms.
This sentiment is primarily due to increased medical distrust caused by the pandemic. People were given so much misinformation for so long that they began to lose faith in the healthcare system. As you might expect, that’s not an easy pill to swallow for many people in the medical field — especially doctors.
As a nurse, you can restore faith by talking to your patients about combining integrative and complementary medicine. Start by discussing their current lifestyle and how their daily choices could impact their health. For example, physical activity, stress levels, sleep habits, and nutrition could affect eye health, immune system resiliency, and basic functions. These habits may even be linked to underlying health conditions.
Consider working with your patients to bridge the gap between holistic and traditional medicine. Suggest lifestyle changes that can boost their immune system and improve their overall well-being, such as:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Taking proper supplements
- Quitting smoking
- Limiting alcohol consumption
When your patients trust that you have their well-being at heart, they’re more likely to respond positively to a traditional medication when necessary, on top of lifestyle changes.
Serve as a Mediator
When you’re working with a patient who is already using alternative or complementary medicine, they might be hesitant to talk about it with the doctor. As a nurse, it’s essential to have strong communication skills and remain focused on your patient rather than on any conflict that might arise.
Healthcare staffs work best when nurses and doctors make decisions together and carry out plans that best serve each patient.
When serving as a mediator, focus on the patient’s medical issues rather than the person, themselves. For example, if you know the doctor you’re working with has strong opinions on alternative medicine, suggest that you provide the most direct communication with the patient to keep them comfortable from feeling any embarrassment or guilt.
Finally, do your best to get as much out of patient interviews as possible. A face-to-face conversation will help the patient to feel more comfortable and safe in a medical setting. Show compassion and be soft-spoken during those interviews, and your patient will likely be more willing to open up about their medical history and practices to treat themselves.
You’ll learn more about their demeanor, how serious they are about alternative medicine, and how to act around them to make them feel comfortable. That’s information you can relay to the doctor, so you’re both on the same page before the patient is seen by their physician.
Put Medicine First
Not all forms of alternative medicine are dangerous. Some have even proven to be effective when used alongside standard treatment. But unfortunately, some alternative medical treatments can be harmful — or even deadly without the right education and monitoring.
Alternative therapy can pose risks like:
- Delaying surgeries or other traditional forms of necessary treatment
- Increasing the risk of cancer or other illnesses
- Increasing the risk of patients exposed to harmful contaminants or ingredients
One of the best things you can do as a nurse is to educate your patients as much as possible. That doesn’t mean judging them or criticizing their personal healthcare choices. Instead, keep them informed about the potential risks of certain alternative medicines and provide them with a treatment plan. In some cases, there’s nothing wrong with continuing holistic practices. However, if a patient has a severe condition or illness, it’s crucial holistic practices only complement traditional forms of treatment.
When your patient is willing to combine the two and agrees to regular monitoring if they want to stick with alternative medicine, you’re also more likely to get doctors on board without judgment.
As holistic and alternative treatments grow in popularity, consider your responsibilities to your patients. You can serve them with honesty, education, and kindness while ensuring they get the treatment they need for whatever condition they are facing.