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Health Assessment Best Practices for Registered Nurses

Nurses are in a unique position to form bonds with their patients. They often serve as the first point of contact, a key role in instilling trust among the patient population.

The nurse-patient relationship then expands to the process of performing health assessments. These assessments are crucial for understanding a patient’s overall health — social, biological, psychological, cultural, environmental and physical conditions — so they can properly diagnose, treat and reevaluate the patient’s well-being.

In the online Registered Nurse (RN) to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program offered by the University of Illinois Chicago, graduates learn how essential health assessments are to comprehensive treatment and improved patient outcomes.

Why Health Assessments Are Important

According to Indeed, “the [health assessment] process consists of collecting the data and applying medical and critical thinking skills to create a care plan for the respective patient, based on their exact needs.”

In this way, health assessments can save patients’ lives in the short and long term. For example, if an assessment detects a heart murmur, a patient could be in immediate danger. Similarly, health assessments help determine if the patient has an underlying health condition that might have been overlooked. Or, if the assessment identifies undesirable health states, such as being overweight or having high blood pressure, nurses can suggest advice and resources to help reverse the condition.

Timely intervention prevents patients from declining and preserves wellness for years to come. Yet, it takes both a thorough assessment and knowing what to do with that assessment to truly effect change. Effective assessments also require attention to more than just the “biological” side of a patient’s health.

“By analyzing the effects that a certain medical condition has on the patient’s mental, social and spiritual state, they improve the odds of fully rehabilitating the patient by helping both them and their families get through the entire situation with as little mental distress as possible,” states Indeed.

The Health Assessment Process

Each health assessment is different but generally follows a pattern of diagnosis, planning, implementation and evaluation. Some steps can be disregarded if the patient seems free from illness or is truly in “perfect condition.”

There are typically four types of nursing assessments healthcare professionals follow. These include:

  • Initial assessment. This is the starting point that initiates formal testing on patients. Nurses uncover what the problem is and what caused it to flare up. For the practitioner to move forward with the process, they must be sure everything in the assessment is accurate.
  • Focused assessment. The focused phase pinpoints a specific issue (heart attack, broken bone, knee replacement surgery). Nurses assist in treating the ailment by monitoring all vital signs and reporting any questionable advancements in the patient’s prognosis.
  • Time-lapsed assessment. Upon diagnosis, nurses must monitor the situation and determine whether the treatment plan works. This can be a lengthy process because particular treatments might not show signs of effectiveness immediately.
  • Emergency assessment. This phase is only initiated when the patient cannot function independently in an emergency. These assessments can occur suddenly and unexpectedly, anywhere and at any time. Nurses attempt to stabilize the patient, so they and other healthcare professionals can determine the next steps.

The best nurses can also recognize when something seems wrong by studying specific attitude changes or demeanors during assessments. For instance, if a patient flinches at the touch, it could indicate a history of abuse. Or, if they suddenly stop communicating when asked certain questions, there might be an underlying concern the patient is hesitant to discuss. Well-trained nurses pick up on these slight differences and understand how to approach them.

Cultivate Critical Thinking With a Bachelor’s Degree

One way to cultivate critical thinking as a nursing professional is to further your career and earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Those who enroll in the RN to BSN online program at the University of Illinois Chicago will prepare for leading roles in evidence-based patient care as experienced professionals.

Through this program, students systematically work to optimize the nursing process to provide and coordinate healthcare and address complex health issues across the lifespan for individuals, families and communities. In addition, the BSN program includes health assessment coursework that is more in-depth than the usual associate’s level assessment course, preparing students to apply these skills in practice. The curriculum emphasizes critical thinking, collaborative learning and engagement with expert faculty while offering flexibility and affordability for working nurses.

For example, the Health Assessment and Communication course covers the basics of communication, health literacy and patient-centeredness — as they all impact health and risk assessment. In the Caring Theory in Professional Nursing Practice course, students explore the complex nature of caring and its critical role in nursing.

Each future graduate will obtain the knowledge and skills required to enter influential roles in the healthcare world, such as expanded roles within their nursing specialty, nursing management, quality and safety leadership roles, nursing case management, community health nursing or public health nursing. In addition, students can complete the program in as few as 12 months, so these BSN-prepared nurses can quickly get on the path to their desired careers.

Learn more about the University of Illinois of Chicago’s online RN to BSN program.

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