A nurse's primary role involves caring for the patient on a daily basis, monitoring their vital signs and facilitating communication between the patient and doctor-in-charge. The job description of a nurse hardly explicitly states that they are required to keep patients constantly happy, yet this exacting expectation is often implicitly imposed upon them.

The conflict between patient happiness and their well being often interferes with the extent to which patients can be satisfied. As patient health is one of the prime responsibilities of the healthcare profession, it is sometimes essential that this is prioritised over what makes a patient happy.

For instance, if a patient refuses a blood test which is an integral part of his/her medical diagnosis, family members may need to be involved to consider what is in the patient's best interests. If the family concedes to the fact that a blood test is essential, the nurse may have to carry out the task against the patient's wishes.

Satisfaction is a tricky matter, depending on who you ask

In many hospitals, subjective measures such as surveys to assess patient satisfaction can place an undue focus on keeping patients happy rather than healthy. This emphasis on patient satisfaction may result in perilous consequences for patient care in the long-term.

Doctors may be more concerned with meeting targets related to patient happiness, thus shifting focus away from optimising care for the patient. Ultimately, this has implications for nurses, as in some instances, they are required to follow guidelines issued by doctors regarding delivery of care for the patient
From a financial perspective, maximising patient happiness is a reasonable objective. However, this can only be a short-term approach, as in the long-term, patients are more likely to be unwell due to non-compliance with treatment or management strategies recommended by the doctor.

In Singapore, patient satisfaction may be dangerous

A national study conducted on patient satisfaction demonstrated a positive correlation between greater patient satisfaction and mortality rates, healthcare and drug expenses. This has serious implications for care delivery as increasing patient happiness might actually prove to be counter-productive. Patients are not always likely to consider the best long-term alternative for themselves. In such cases, it is important for the appropriate healthcare professionals to intervene and decide upon the best course of action to take, keeping in view the patient’s medical condition.

Recently, Ms. Chugani, a nurse at the Institute of Mental Health in Singapore, received the “Extraordinary Nurse Award”. She received this accolade in recognition for her remarkable contribution towards enhancing patient outcomes.

She has a unique approach to dealing with difficult patients. Instead of refusing their unreasonable requests, she diffuses the situation by agreeing to return the favour if the patient listens to her. For instance, she tells a patient that she would get him “chee cheong fun or kway teow if he wore his clothes”. This is a favourable compromise as both the patient and the healthcare professional benefit from the exchange.

Whilst in reality it may be difficult to implement a similar approach, all nurses can do their bit simply by understanding the circumstances of the patient and empathising with them.

There is no straightforward answer to whether nurses should focus on patient happiness or job responsibility, yet it is important to note that different contexts require different approaches. If a patient is critically ill, the nurse may be justified in refusing to submit to patient demands.

Above all, it is important to revere the nursing profession as nurses dedicate their lives to the selfless service of others. Whilst patients may not notice anything conspicuous that contributes to their happiness, nurses are always working to make small subtle changes that over time, truly transform patients’ lives. MIMS

Robbins, Alexandra. "The Problem With Satisfied Patients." The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 17 Apr. 2015. Web. 25 Aug. 2016.
Fenton JJ, Jerant AF, Bertakis KD, Franks P. The Cost of Satisfaction: A National Study of Patient Satisfaction, Health Care Utilization, Expenditures, and Mortality. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(5):405-411. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.1662.
"Veteran 72-year-old IMH Nurse Wins Inaugural Extraordinary Nurse Award." The Straits Times. N.p., 2016. Web. 25 Aug. 2016.

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