Whether a caretaker is part of a team performing a quadruple bypass surgery or someone administering a flu shot, communication with patients is a key metric for ensuring a pleasant and reassuring experience for patients.
The importance of communication is certainly not limited to patient-caretaker relationships, as all caretakers involved in a given patient's journey need to be in constant communication with each other to ensure a fluid process for however long that patient's health care journey may be.
Improving these levels of communication should be standard practice at any and all levels of healthcare, but this article will highlight the reasons improved communication practices can (and already is) improve healthcare for the increasing homeless population in the United States.
Various studies put the U.S. homeless population (this includes those individuals living in homeless shelters) somewhere between 550,000 and 3.5 million. Even though there is a large gap there, one thing is for sure: that is a large percentage of American human beings with unique stories who have fallen on hard times and need help.
In addition to the obvious heath concerns like a lack of nutrition and being subjected to foul weather, these individuals also are more likely to be victims of violent crime and sexually transmitted disease, they have no place to store important medications, and the general need to prioritize food over health leads to other issues.
Initiating and improving healthcare for these homeless individuals begins with an understanding, and communication is the only way to know what these people have been subjected to, and what they need to improve their health.
Healthcare Information Regarding Homeless Individuals
For most homeless individuals, healthcare is not at the top of their to-do list, and therein lies the first problem for getting these people care. This is also where communication must start, as most of these individuals believe that healthcare is something only for people with money.
A lack of transportation, personal identification, and health insurance are all reasons homeless people who need healthcare may think they have no options. In fact, they have many options such as national programs like the Health Care for the Homeless (HCH) program, and city-specific programs akin to Family Health Centers of San Diego's Homeless Services department .
One does not have to be a healthcare professional to relay information on these programs to homeless individuals, and simply sharing a phone number with someone could be a great catalyst to that individual learning about their options and ultimately realizing that healthcare isn't only for the middle and upper classes.
Given the stigma of homelessness in the United States, it has become a norm for nurses to blame a patient's homelessness on substance abuse. Although those nurses may be right in some cases, determining the reasons for that substance abuse will make for a much better understanding of the individual's healthcare needs.
Many studies have provided data to backup the stance that compassion for a patient is the most important thing a nurse can do to ensure a patient is comfortable, and thus shares all information related to healthcare. This is often referred to as therapeutic communication.
Therapeutic communication is defined as "a process in which the nurse consciously influences the patient or helps them in better understanding through verbal and nonverbal communication, while encouraging patients to express their feelings and ideas, which is an important prerequisite for the realization of relation of mutual acceptance and respect."
Certainly some of these "feelings and ideas" may be a bit different from a homeless patient than they would be for a (for lack of a better word) "regular" patient, but the result of hearing these feelings and ideas is the same: a comfortable, relaxed, and honest patient to work with.
Bringing it all Together
The first line of communication with the homeless population should be about the availability of programs such as the aforementioned HCH and city-specific programs. Next is finding nurses willing to work with these populations, and that in and of itself requires another line of communication that often needs to come from outside of the healthcare circle.
Due to a perpetuated stigma that the homeless community is scary or dangerous, many providers don't want to work with these individuals, even though these individuals often need the most help. Reducing the negative stigma of homelessness is a form of therapeutic communication with healthcare providers that is needed to ensure they relay the same compassion to the population they are serving.
With an informed homeless population, programs to provide the money, and a compassionate health care team determined to serve, the staggering numbers of untreated homeless people who are ill can continue to decline and more people can receive the care they need, no matter their societal status.