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Assessing the Whole Person as Part of Care

Holistic care involves treating a patient as a “whole” person instead of focusing on an illness or diagnosis. Holistic practices consider the physiological, psychological, cultural and spiritual aspects of a person to administer appropriate, patient-centered treatment. Adherents of holistic care hold that the whole of any system is greater than its parts; a person is a complex organism influenced by physical, emotional and social factors. Holistic care understands the need to treat symptoms; however, it stresses the importance of addressing the root causes and the underlying influences that contribute to those symptoms. Because disease and dysfunction can negatively impact a patient’s entire world, healthcare providers must address the entirety of the patient when administering treatment to truly promote health and well-being.

The History of Holistic Care

Holistic care is not a new idea. It has roots with Socrates, and Thomas Percival, the author of the first known text on medical ethics, who promoted the idea of treating the whole person and not just his or her symptoms or diseases. Many consider Florence Nightingale to be one of the first holistic health practitioners. She educated nurses on the relationship between patients and their surroundings. According to “A Brief History and Overview of Holistic Nursing” published in Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, “Nursing has been grounded in holistic principles and has incorporated natural remedies and healing therapies since the 1700’s.”

When the focus of medicine shifted to a microscopic view of germs and the damage they can cause, the focus of treatment shifted, too. It centered on killing disease-causing germs with synthesized medicines. Healthcare professionals came to consider illness independently of the patient and not as the result of a person’s lifestyle or choices. As such, patient care concentrated on the disease and not the patient.

The Re-Emergence of Holistic Care

Today, a holistic view of patient care has re-emerged. For some patients of conventional medicine, treatments have caused more side effects than symptoms, especially sufferers of certain chronic conditions. Additionally, more patients recognize the role that external factors play in causing — and curing — disease. These factors, and others, have led to renewed interest in patient-centered care. Healthcare practitioners continue to look more closely at the principles of holistic treatment.

Principles and Benefits of the Holistic Approach

No two people are the same, so it makes sense that treatment might vary from individual to individual. The holistic approach to patient care considers a variety of internal and external factors with the assumption that every person is a unique blend of physical and psychological components. Holistic principles tell us that a patient’s care should be as unique as the patient.

Holistic care takes into account the multi-faceted lives of individuals. For example, treatments for children are often different from treatments for adults. In turn, the family dynamics of individuals — be they adults or children — can influence patients’ receptiveness to treatment.

Spiritual and cultural influences can also play important roles in patient care. A person who feels that healthcare providers respect his or her spiritual needs and cultural identity may have a better overall experience.

Additional advantages of holistic care include better-informed patients and improved relationships between patients and their healthcare practitioners. As patients become educated about their health and wellness, they may feel empowered, which can motivate them to make healthy changes in their lives.

How Nurses Can Further the Holistic Approach to Patient Care

Holistic care requires nurses to wear many hats. They must evaluate symptoms and consult with team members. They play a role in educating and working with patients, and they facilitate teamwork to deliver holistic treatment. Research skills coupled with the ability to accurately assess patient needs can help nurses identify appropriate treatments and influence a patient’s wellbeing. An online RN to BSN program can provide the educational opportunity a nurse needs to develop these skills. Taking advantage of an online RN to BSN program can prepare nurses to be leaders and to teach others about the advantages of holistic care.

Learn more about the UT Arlington online RN to BSN program.


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