Understanding Systems-Based Practice in Nursing: A Comprehensive Guide

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Healthcare is an ever-evolving field, and nurses are a critical connection between systems and effective care delivery. In 2023, delivering the highest level of patient care goes far beyond bedside patients’ needs. Instead, it involves a large system with several moving parts. Nursing has evolved in a myriad of ways, and today, we’re going to discover one of those ways: systems-based care. In this article, we dive into the complex world of systems-based practice in nursing. We’ll explore what systems-based practice is, why it’s important, and some of the practical implications involved. We’ll also learn how such an approach leads toward the highest level of patient care. We have a lot to get through, but before we get down to it, what even is systems-based care?

Based Practice in Nursing

What is systems-based practice?

Systems-based practice, or SBP, is an approach to nursing that focuses primarily on connecting multiple healthcare systems, individuals, and organizations in patient care. Systems-based practice care acknowledges that healthcare is complex — comprised of several elements, including patients, care providers, tech, institutions, and policy. Systems-based practice in nursing is a multifaceted approach that emphasizes the interconnectedness of healthcare systems, individuals, and organizations involved in patient care. Nursing professionals who adopt such an approach recognize the need to navigate this intricate system effectively to provide high-quality, patient-centered care. So, what does this type of care look like?

What does systems-based practice involve?

Many components comprise system-based practice, but here are some of the most prominent.

Holistic patient care

A holistic patient care approach involves nurses viewing patients as individuals within the context of their unique healthcare journey. This means not only considering their immediate needs but also other social, cultural, and psychological factors that may affect their well-being while they receive care.

Inter professional collaboration

Collaboration between healthcare professionals is integral to delivering great care. In systems-based practice, healthcare professionals such as nurses, physicians, therapists, and pharmacists must work together closely to better understand the situation and enhance patient outcomes.

Quality improvement

Improving the overall quality of care is the foundation of systems-based practice and nurses continually strive to improve the quality of healthcare delivery. Nurses practicing systems-based practice should actively take part in initiatives and help to better the system-level issues that can impact the delivery of the best care possible.

Ethical and legal considerations

Ethical and legal issues are also important as in systems-based practice, nurses must adhere to high standards regarding these issues. Nurses must follow such guidelines on ethical and legal issues while simultaneously advocating for their patients’ rights.

Why is systems-based practice so important in healthcare? 

Now that we know what systems-based practice is and some of the practices involved, why is it so important? Here are the main reasons.

Enhanced patient outcomes

The most significant benefit to any new healthcare approach, notably systems-based practice, is better quality care and enhanced patient outcomes. Systems-based practice is all about improving the level of care for patients. By acknowledging system-level factors that may hinder this, nurses can make a huge difference in patient care quality. Some examples of this may include participating in hospital-wide initiatives to reduce hospital-acquired infections or medication errors so that nurses can help save lives and improve overall patient well-being.

Increased patient safety

Like quality, systems-based practice is concerned with improving healthcare safety. In systems-based practice, nurses are trained to identify potential issues or risks in the systems and create strategies to prevent or significantly reduce those risks. Nurses practicing systems-based practice engage in error reporting and root cause analysis to prevent risky events and simultaneously improve safety protocols.

Improved healthcare efficiency

Healthcare delivery efficiency is critical to ensuring the effective use of resources. This helps nurses not only deliver a higher level of care, but it also reduces waste and unnecessary costs. Systems-based practice streamlines healthcare processes and can massively improve workflow. More efficient systems have huge benefits to both patients and healthcare professionals, not to mention organizations as a whole.

Enhanced interprofessional collaboration

Effective communication between healthcare workers and professionals is paramount in effective and efficient patient care. Systems-based practice helps nurture and develop teamwork and cooperation — and, therefore, a fuller, more comprehensive level of care. Nurses using systems-based practice collaborate with physicians, therapists, social workers, and other healthcare providers to achieve this. This collaborative approach ensures that patients receive well-rounded, holistic care.

Career advancement

Systems-based practice nurses open new doors and opportunities in their careers. More and more healthcare organizations are prioritizing and valuing nurses with a systems-based practice approach and nurses who excel in this area are often considered for bigger roles such as leadership positions, quality improvement roles, or policy development positions.

What are the practical implications of systems-based practice in nursing? 

Let’s explore some of the main ways systems-based practice impacts nursing.

Patient assessment

Regarding patient assessment, systems-based practice goes further than analyzing the immediate medical condition. Systems-based practice nurses must consider other factors that might affect the patient’s level of care. These factors can include ethical and cultural beliefs, socioeconomic status, and even looking at the available healthcare resources. A comprehensive assessment helps tailor care plans to meet the individualized needs of each patient.

Team collaboration

Team collaboration is at the center of patient care teams. Healthcare professionals must collaborate with other professionals, such as physicians, pharmacists, and therapists, to ensure seamless care coordination. Effective communication, active listening, and respect for each team member’s expertise are crucial in systems-based practice.

Quality improvement initiatives

Quality improvement is another vital practical application of systems-based practice. Nurses must actively use data collection and analysis to streamline processes, identify issues, produce evidence-based solutions, and monitor new processes to check for efficiency and how well they enhance the quality of care. 

Patient advocacy 

Nurses are crucial in advocating for their patients within the healthcare system. Patient advocacy involves addressing concerns about patient safety, fair care access, and promoting ethical decision-making. Systems-based approaches enable nurses to become effective advocates for their patients’ rights and well-being.

What are the challenges and barriers to implementing systems-based practice? 

While systems-based practice offers numerous benefits, its implementation in nursing practice can encounter several challenges and barriers. Here are some of the most significant roadblocks when it comes to adopting a systems-based approach.

Resistance to change

Like all new processes and implementations, there can be some resistance to a new healthcare approach. Well-established healthcare systems can often be resistant to change and many professionals are even reluctant to adopt a new style of thinking. Overcoming this resistance requires education, training, and a supportive organizational culture.

Time constraints

Nurses have a lot of stress and are often pressed for time under heavy workloads. Familiarizing oneself with a new systems-based practice approach takes time and often requires extra activities such as collecting data, improving projects, and working with other healthcare professionals. It can be hard to convince a team to take part in such activities.

Resource limitations

Limiting resources can be tricky when implementing a systems-based practice approach. Limited resources, such as staffing levels and access to advanced technology, can hinder the effective implementation of systems-based practice in nursing. Healthcare organizations must allocate resources to support nurses in their systems-based practice efforts.

Lack of education and training

Many nurses don’t receive formal education or training in systems-based practice during their initial education. Ongoing education and professional development opportunities are essential to in giving nurses the tools and knowledge they need.

How is systems-based practice care taught? 

Teaching systems-based practice in nursing requires a multifaceted approach that combines classroom instruction, experiential learning, and practical application. Here are several methods and strategies commonly used to teach systems-based practice in nursing:

Didactic lectures

Traditional classroom lectures can introduce nursing students to the theoretical concepts of systems-based practice. In didactic lectures, instructors can cover topics such as the healthcare system’s structure, healthcare policies, quality improvement, and the role of nurses within the system.

Case studies

Case studies present real or hypothetical patient scenarios that require students to consider the broader healthcare system’s impact on patient care. Students analyze these cases to identify system-level issues, propose solutions, and make decisions that prioritize patient safety and well-being.

Inter professional education (IPE)

Collaborative learning experiences with other healthcare professionals, such as physicians, pharmacists, and social workers, can help nursing students understand the importance of inter professional collaboration and the roles each discipline plays within the healthcare system.

Simulation exercises

High-fidelity simulations can immerse students in realistic clinical scenarios where they must navigate complex healthcare systems. These simulations allow students to practice critical thinking, decision-making, and teamwork while considering system-level factors.

Quality improvement projects

Engaging students in quality improvement initiatives within healthcare settings encourages them to identify system-level issues and actively participate in addressing them. This hands-on approach empowers students to make real-world improvements in patient care.

Healthcare policy analysis

Teaching students to analyze healthcare policies and their impact on patient care allows them to understand the broader system’s influence on nursing practice. This may involve examining healthcare regulations, reimbursement policies, and healthcare reform initiatives.

Guest speakers

Inviting guest speakers with experience in healthcare administration, healthcare policy, or quality improvement can provide students with real-world perspectives on systems-based practice and its relevance in nursing.

Clinical rotations

Clinical experiences are essential for nursing students to apply systems-based practice principles. During clinical rotations, students can observe and participate in healthcare delivery, identify system-level challenges, and work with preceptors to improve patient care.

Role modeling

Faculty and clinical instructors can serve as role models by demonstrating systems-based practice principles. They can share their experiences and insights to inspire and guide students in integrating systems-based practice into their nursing careers.

Assessment and feedback

Implement assessments that evaluate students’ understanding and application of systems-based practice. these assessments provide constructive feedback to help students improve their systems-based practice skills and knowledge.

Ready for a career in systems-based nursing?

If what we’ve discussed throughout this article sounds like something you want to be a part of, read more about nurse practitioner roles with the University of Indianapolis. The University of Indianapolis ensures that all its graduates enter the medical field with full-state practice authority in 26 states in the U.S., and students will leave with excellent clinical and analytical skills.

Final words 

Systems-based practice is a new approach to nursing that recognizes the complexity of healthcare systems and everyone it involves. While implementing systems-based practice can drastically improve patient outcomes, enhance safety, increase efficiency, and improve industry collaboration, there are many challenges to overcome such as resistance to change and the need for more rigorous training. Ultimately, the benefits of systems-based practice far outweigh the difficulties, and this new approach to nursing may revolutionize how we deliver patient care in the future.

It’s also important to recognize that systems-based practice education should be ongoing and integrated throughout nursing programs, ensuring students develop a deep understanding of how a systems-based approach works in a nursing context. Additionally, collaboration between nursing schools and healthcare institutions can create opportunities for students to engage in systems-based practice activities within real healthcare settings, further enhancing their learning experience. As healthcare continues to evolve, nurses who prioritize systems-based practice are well-positioned to provide the highest standard of care and create positive change in the ever-complex healthcare landscape.


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