Nurses respond to patients' psychosocial needs by dealing, ducking, diverting and deferring: An observational study of a hospice ward


Hill H, Evans J & Forbat L (2015) Nurses respond to patients' psychosocial needs by dealing, ducking, diverting and deferring: An observational study of a hospice ward. BMC Nursing, 14 (1), Art. No.: 60.

Background: Psychosocial support is considered a central component of nursing care but it remains unclear as to exactly how this is implemented in practice. The aim of this study was to provide a descriptive exploration of how psychosocial needs (PNs) of patients in a hospice ward are expressed and met, in order to develop an understanding of the provision of psychosocial support in practice.  Methods: An embedded mixed-methods study was conducted in one hospice ward. Data collection included observations of patients’ expressions of PNs and nurses’ responses to those expressed PNs, shift hand-overs and multi-disciplinary meetings. Interviews about the observed care were conducted with the patients and nurses and nursing documentation pertaining to psychosocial care was collated. Descriptive statistical techniques were applied to quantitative data in order to explore and support the qualitative observational, interview and documentary data.  Results: During the 8-month period of observation, 227 encounters within 38 episodes of care were observed among 38 nurses and 47 patients. Within these encounters, 330 PNs were expressed. Nurses were observed immediately responding to expressed PNs in one of four ways: dealing (44.2 %), deferring (14.8 %), diverting (10.3 %) and ducking (30.7 %). However, it is rare that one type of PN was clearly expressed on its own: many were expressed at the same time and usually while the patient was interacting with the nurse for another reason, thus making the provision of psychosocial support challenging. The nurses’ response patterns varied little according to type of need.  Conclusions: The provision of psychosocial support is very complex and PNs are not always easily recognised. This study has allowed an exploration of the actual PNs of patients in a hospice setting, the way in which they were expressed, and how nurses responded to them. The nurses faced the challenge of responding to PNs whilst carrying out the other duties of their shift, and the fact that nurses can provide psychosocial support as an inherent component of practice was verified. The data included in this paper, and the discussions around the observed care, provides nurses everywhere with an example against which to compare their own practice.

Hospice nursing; Psychosocial; Observation; Palliative

BMC Nursing: Volume 14, Issue 1

Publication date30/11/2015
Publication date online17/11/2015
Date accepted by journal09/11/2015
PublisherBioMed Central