Exploring the readiness of senior doctors and nurses to assess and address patients’ social needs in the hospital setting

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BMC Health Services Research


Background: Adverse social circumstances are a key factor in health outcomes. Hospitals are an opportune setting for assessing and addressing the unmet social needs of patients, however, the readiness of healthcare workers in hospitals to undertake such tasks requires further exploration in the Australian context. This study aimed to generate a theory of doctors’ and nurses’ readiness to assess and address patients’ social needs in a hospital setting. Methods: A constructivist grounded theory methodology was applied, with purposive and theoretical sampling used to gather diverse perspectives of readiness during semi-structured interviews with twenty senior doctors and nurses from a variety of clinical specialties working in hospitals serving communities experiencing inequitable social and health outcomes. Line-by-line coding, memo writing, and diagramming were used in analysis to construct an interpretive theory of readiness. Application of constant comparison analytic processes were used to test the robustness of the theory. Results: The readiness of doctors and nurses varies across individuals and departments, and is founded upon a state of being comfortable and confident to assess social need as determined by a range of personal attributes (e.g. knowledge of social need; skills to assess social need); a state of being willing and prepared to assess and address social need facilitated by supportive environments (e.g. departmental culture); and enabling characteristics of the clinical encounter (e.g. time, rapport). Conclusions: We found that the readiness of doctors and nurses is dynamic and impacted by a complex interplay of personal attributes along with contextual and situational factors. These findings indicate that any efforts to strengthen the readiness of doctors and nurses to assess and address social needs must target personal capabilities in addition to characteristics of the working environment.

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