By Kristin Soper, MSN, ANP-BC, AOCNP®, and Nellie Diez, BSN, RN, OCN®
Imagine being in a hospital, unable to verbally communicate and having to find a way to get across your basic human needs. As oncology nurses, we take care of a variety of different patients: some able to make their needs known and some who unfortunately cannot.
We had a patient with glioblastoma on our unit for weeks. She had expressive aphasia and responded “no” to almost all questions. Whether she was being asked what she wanted for breakfast or what her daughter’s name was, her answer was always “no.” She was frustrated, and our team felt like we weren’t doing enough to meet her basic needs.
Unfortunately, she wasn’t the only patient with this problem. There have been head and neck patients, patients with thyroid cancer, and many others, who haven’t been able to communicate their needs to staff. We felt we needed to do more, so we created our “All About Me” patient bulletin boards.
Our “All About Me” patient boards were initially developed for our nonverbal patients who struggled to make their needs known. The boards are split into different sections and have places for patients to fill out their own answers to several questions. For example, we ask them what they like to be called, what foods they prefer to order, who is in their support system consists, and other information our team needs to provide the best care for them. Patients or their family members can fill out the necessary details on the board, and, when any members of the care team enter the room, they immediately have more individualized, specific information about that patient.
Implementing the “All About Me” Boards
Patient boards were installed in each of our 27 inpatient rooms. So far, they’ve made a positive impact for all of our patients. Furthermore, we’ve since discovered that our entire patient population enjoys filling out these boards, because it makes them feel more like a person and less like a patient.
Recently, our team had a younger patient with sarcoma who—outside of the hospital—didn’t go by his legal name. Prior to installing the boards, we were unaware of his preference. We had noted a lack of eye contact and limited engagement in his overall health. Once we saw that he preferred to be called by his nickname and our team began using it, he became more engaged and involved in his own cancer care. The boards have helped us form meaningful connections with our patients.
All About the Little Things
In practice, we’re discovering that it’s the little things that can make a big difference. It’s knowing who the patient is when they aren’t admitted to the hospital. It’s remembering that each patient is more than just their cancer type and treatment regimen. We can positively impact a patient’s cancer journey if only we take a step back and start with the small things.
Ultimately, our “All About Me” boards have taken us back to the basics. They’ve been well received by both patients and staff. Any information filled out can become an instant ice breaker for providers, and it makes it easier to engage and relate to our patients. When we remember that all patients have individual needs and their care should be focused on the whole person, then we all win.