Promoting patient autonomy: Perspectives of occupational therapists and nurses

P Govender, D Naidoo


Background. There has been a turn in the last decade towards autonomy in patient care. Promoting patient autonomy is required as a collaborative endeavour between the patient, healthcare professionals and the families and caregivers of patients. Our current discourse demonstrates patient autonomy as essential.

Objective. To explore the concept of autonomy in nurses’ and occupational therapists (OTs)’ individual and collective practice as healthcare professionals.

Methods. The study followed a qualitative explorative approach. Fourteen nurses and 12 OTs from 6 facilities in KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa were recruited into the study. Following ethical approval, and dependent on the availability of participants, data were collected via focus groups, triad and individual semi-structured interviews and qualitative questionnaires. Data were analysed using inductive thematic analysis per profession initially, and then later merged to develop themes.

Results. Two major themes emerged that spoke to the deconstruction of autonomy and deterrents to the promotion of autonomy in clinical practice. An individualistic view of autonomy was embedded within the participants’ understanding of the concept. It included the patient’s right and ability to selfdetermine or direct treatment and various interventions, having appropriate guidance and the relevant information to make decisions, and opportunities to self-determine their course of treatment. Patient-related and organisational factors served as barriers to the promotion of autonomy.

Conclusion. By analysing the experiences of autonomy in practice of these two professions, we may be able to establish new ways of understanding how professional practice can truly become patient-centred and transition from an individualistic understanding of autonomy towards viewing autonomy as relational.

Authors' affiliations

P Govender, Discipline of Occupational Therapy, School of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

D Naidoo, Discipline of Occupational Therapy, School of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

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African Journal of Health Professions Education 2020;12(4):224-226. DOI:10.7196/AJHPE.2020.v12i4.1366

Article History

Date submitted: 2020-12-01
Date published: 2020-12-01

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