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The Importance of Health Assessment Skills for Nurses

An emphasis on "living a healthy lifestyle" has grown over the last decade, but the statistics surrounding chronic disease don't necessarily reflect such a movement. However, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have sparked an awakening in many individuals.

Research by FMCG Gurus, as reported on by New Food Magazine, found that 59% of respondents worldwide say they have become more conscious about their overall health due to the virus, and 57% are more concerned about their immunity. Additional sources support this trend, with up to 73% of those surveyed testifying they plan to make changes in their individual lives.

To fully make this kind of shift, input from healthcare professionals is a must. Health assessments —often performed by registered nurses (RNs) in a clinic or hospital setting — are an integral component of promoting patient-generated choices.

Why Health Assessments Are More than "Documentation"

Most physicians' visits follow a similar protocol. Patients meet with a nurse first to collect important vitals (weight, height, blood pressure, etc.) before visiting with the doctor. While many view this portion of the visit as "routine," few grasp just how critical that preliminary health assessment is to informing diagnosis and treatment.

The assessment also goes above and beyond documentation. It serves as a foundation for initiating conversations about one's health, engaging patients' participation in their own health and lifestyle choices and ultimately improving health behaviors in the short and long term.

Breaking Down the Different Types of Health Assessments

Typically, health assessments are divided into two primary categories. Nurses will need to decide which is appropriate based on unique scenarios presented to them. These two categories include:

  1. Complete health assessment. The examination covers a thorough health history and comprehensive head-to-toe physical exam.
  2. Problem-focused assessment. A patient analysis based on certain care goals is often used in a "specialty" context (with focus on cardiac/heart health or respiratory/lung health, for example).

Two sub-categories referenced in the AMN Healthcare Education Services training document on health assessments are:

  1. Interval/abbreviated assessments. These exams still involve a thorough evaluation but can be performed quickly. They are best for situations when a patient has previously been under the same nurse's care, a shift change or when a patient is transferred from a unit within the same hospital or health system.
  2. Special population assessments. Oftentimes, certain patient populations require that healthcare professionals have specific skills and knowledge when completing an assessment. These patient groups encompass pregnant patients, infants, children and the elderly.

While much of the health assessment is concentrated on biological or physiological attributes, non-verbal behaviors can be telling indicators. In fact, picking up on certain cues — a patient's reluctance to answer questions, avoidance or averting eye contact — is crucial. Nurses who cultivate this expertise early on will likely prosper greatly in their careers.

Preparing for Your Role in Health Assessments

As nurses undergo their training, specifically those with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) gaining a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), a key part of the curriculum is understanding the significance of comprehensive health assessments. Courses within an online RN to BSN program, such as the one at Eastern Michigan University (EMU), are designed to:

  • Build on an RN's current skills of obtaining a patient history
  • Hone one's interviewing skills
  • Educate nurses on hands-on physical assessments, documentation and developing appropriate nursing diagnoses
  • Help professionals monitor the health and physical examination across the patient's lifespan, not just an "in the room" moment in time

Additional courses incorporate professionalism in nursing and patient advocacy — both of which are fundamental tenets of administering a health assessment. EMU's program electives like NURS 449: Health Disparities in the United States provide an extra level of insight that will serve nurses well as they perform assessments across varying patient populations.

Want to Polish Your Skills Even More? Turn to the Experts

Education and training regarding health assessments is a foundational step. Yet, there's nothing like "in the field" experience to improve one's competency. Nurses expanding their education often benefit from seeking out advice from mentors or colleagues. The wisdom that accompanies repeated practice is an invaluable resource.

As an increasing number of individuals acknowledge the merit of living in a state of health — instead of a state of ill — the nature of health assessments will continue to evolve. When rooted in the essence of "teamwork" among patients and their healthcare teams, these exams may contribute to revolutionary changes in our collective well-being.

Learn more about Eastern Michigan University's online RN to BSN program.


Sources:

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: Health Assessments in Primary Care

New Food Magazine: Evolving Eating Habits as a Result of COVID-19

Nurse.org: How to Conduct a Head-to-Toe Assessment

Research Gate: A Guide to Taking a Patient's History

RN.com: Overview of Nursing Health Assessment


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