Patient autonomy in home care: Nurses’ relational practices of responsibility

Nursing Ethics 26 (6):1638-1653 (2019)

Abstract
Background: Over the last decade, new healthcare policies are transforming healthcare practices towards independent living and self-care of older people and people with a chronic disease or disability within the community. For professional caregivers in home care, such as nurses, this requires a shift from a caring attitude towards the promotion of patient autonomy. Aim: To explore how nurses in home care deal with the transformation towards fostering patient autonomy and self-care. Research design and context: A case study was conducted in a professional development course for home care nurses, including participant observations and focus groups. The theoretical notion of ‘relational agency’ and the moral concept of ‘practices of responsibility’ were used to conduct a narrative analysis on the nurses’ stories about autonomy. Participants: Eight nurses, two coaches and two university lecturers who participated in the learning circle. Ethical considerations: Informed consent was sought at the start of the course and again, at specific moments during the course of the learning circle. Findings: Three main themes were found that expressed the moral demands experienced and negotiated by the nurses: adapting to the person, activating patients’ strengths and collaboration with patients and informal caregivers. Discussion: On a policy and organisational level, the moral discourse on patient autonomy gets intertwined with the instrumental discourse on healthcare budget savings. This is manifested in the ambiguities the nurses face in fostering patient autonomy in their daily home care practice. To support nurses, critical thinking, moral sensitivity and trans-professional working should be part of their professional development. Conclusion: The turn towards autonomy in healthcare raises moral questions about responsibilities for care. Promoting patient autonomy should be a collaborative endeavour and deliberation of patients, professional and informal caregivers together.
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DOI 10.1177/0969733018772070
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