Posts Tagged ‘Nursing’

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A Nurse Ethicist’s Analysis of a Recent Nursing Home Sexual Consent Case

April 21, 2015

By Douglas P. Olsen, PhD, RN, associate professor, Michigan State University College of Nursing in East Lansing, associate editor of Nursing Ethics, and a contributing editor of AJN, where he regularly writes about ethical issues in nursing.

scales of justice/by waferboard, via Flickr

scales of justice/by waferboard, via Flickr

An 78-year-old retired state legislator and farmer in Iowa is currently on trial for having sex with his wife, who has severe Alzheimer’s disease, in her shared room in a nursing home. He has been charged with rape.

The case highlights two ethical questions or conflicts:

  • When is protection needed and when is it intrusive and harmful?
  • What are the mental abilities required to consent to sex?

Consenting to sex is not the same as informed consent for treatment. In treatment, a clinician obtains consent to act on (treat) the patient in a way that will benefit the patient. By contrast, proper consent for sex is mutual and both parties benefit.

To extend the comparison: a patient’s decision to consent to treatment is generally made by balancing the benefits, harms, and risks to the individual patient. The decision to engage in sex often involves consideration of another’s satisfaction—it is not unknown for one spouse to agree to sex to please the other, even though he or she would not otherwise want sexual contact.

Another complicating factor in the question of sexual consent is that gender matters. While the social ideal is to consider sex consensual, societal understanding often tilts toward considering the male as the aggressor and the female as the gatekeeper. In addition, we often assume that power, especially physical power, is not equal in sexual relations.

Decision-making capacity. A patient must have decision-making capacity to give valid consent for treatment. Such capacity is not considered a blanket characteristic, but is assessed in relation to the risks, benefits, and complexity of the specific treatment decision.

The assessment of capacity in relation to the specific decision can also be applied to consent for sex. Unfortunately, a proper level of mental ability needed to confer capacity for sex is not clearly established and can vary in relation to circumstances. The woman in this case had severe mental impairment, but that does not necessarily mean that she lacked the capacity to consent to sex with her husband. Differences of opinion regarding the level needed for her valid consent are illustrated in the following summary of an exchange from the trial included in a recent New York Times article:

Mr. Yunek [the defense attorney] asked Dr. Brady [the center’s physician] if “Donna is happy to see Henry — hugs, smiles, they hold hands, they talk — would that indicate that she is in fact capable at that point of understanding the affection with Henry?” Dr. Brady said no, calling that a “primal response” not indicative of the ability to make informed decisions.

The defense attorney is implying that her actions indicate desire and willingness and that this is a sufficient level of mental ability for valid consent; the physician, on the other hand, suggests that such “primal responses” are not sufficient to indicate a level of mental ability. This is not a disagreement about what her ability is, but about what is the proper degree and type of ability needed to consent. It’s not so much a disagreement about facts as about values.

One approach to establishing whether sexual contact between these two older adults was appropriate is to examine each relevant factor. These include the following: Read the rest of this entry ?

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Never Too Late: One Family Practice’s Shift to EHRs after 50 Years of Paper

April 16, 2015

Editor’s note: We hear a lot about the stress and lack of time for direct patient care that nurses (and physicians) have experienced with the movement to EMRs or EHRs. We’re in a transitional period, and in some instances the use and design of these systems has a long ways to go. But here’s a story with a positive slant, written by someone who might easily have responded very differently, given the circumstances. Change is inevitable; how we react to it throughout our lives, less so. 

By Marilyn Kiesling Howard, ARNP

Niklas Bildhauer/ Wikimedia Commons

Niklas Bildhauer/ Wikimedia Commons

I am a nurse practitioner and my husband of 60 years is a family practitioner. We still work full time in our Gulf Breeze, Florida, practice. About five years ago, we first learned that our paper records were becoming archaic and that Medicare was planning to penalize providers who didn’t switch to the use of electronic health records (EHRs) by a certain date.

It was terrible news—we had 50 years of work in the paper chart genre, and were unsure about how to make the transition. Some who were in our position took the pending requirements as an opportunity to retire, but we weren’t ready for that.

Embracing a predigital innovation. In the 1960s, we started a small family practice in Indiana. As we requested our patients’ records from the files of their most recent physicians, it was not unusual to receive an index card that had the date neatly stamped on the left edge, with a handwritten note on the same line. (Needless to say, we’d already gone upscale, with a folder for each patient and a piece of white note paper.)

We quickly found that the medical record was our link to the prospective health of our patients, so we explored how we might make our records more useful. Joe read about a clinic in Bangor, Maine, where physicians were implementing the problem-oriented medical record (POMR) developed by Dr. Larry Weed, so we flew there to learn about this innovation. Dr. Bjorn and Dr. Cross were still developing their application of the model; their favorite medical secretary was a ‘bored bright housewife,’ and the entire clinic had an aura of excitement and discovery.

When we returned home, we quickly converted our folders to a proper chart with the ‘problem list’ fastened on the left and the progress notes on the right, using the new methodology. As we treated our new patients, we dutifully produced the ‘subjective, objective, assessment, and plan’ (SOAP) model we’d also imported from Maine.

This method sufficed for all the years between the first enlightenment and our leap in May 2011 into the world of pixels. It’s a challenge to get up and running with an EHR system. It was as if we were starting a new office with 2,000 patients to enroll. We had to had to translate and enter all of their old information into the new charting system. Two of our staff did not have computer knowledge and could not type. We went to half production, and our lost revenue was felt for months afterwards. (‘Meaningful use’ rules reimbursed us for about one-half of what the transition cost us.)

We’d decided on a cloud-based system because it was easy to access and the records would be safely stored on a server in Maine, an extra plus due to our propensity for hurricanes in the Florida Panhandle. The program was extremely user friendly. Given our level of expertise, this was a necessity. We took lessons online; the training included a live operator who was willing to stay on the line until the information was understood and applied. The company that runs the system keeps us compliant with meaningful use requirements and lets us know of impending changes.

We have, since we started using it at our clinic, found the EHR so far superior to our handwritten method that it would be impossible for us to return to the scribbled messes, as we see our old charts now. We still refer to them to garner important items such as consults, colonoscopies, surgeries, etc. Those reports are then neatly bar-coded into the EHR. It is no longer necessary to weed, retire, or store the charts. We did not abstract the old charts, simply moved important reports from them. We keep them in our office for quick historical reference. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Two Sons, Similar injuries—Two Very Different Experiences of Pain

April 1, 2015

Vincent-2015-AJN_The_American_Journal_of_NursingWe are often amazed by the richness of the archives here at AJN. In the April issue, we reprint an essay originally published in the February 2002 issue. “Morphine. Now.” by Peggy Vincent, touches on topics as relevant today as ever: inadequate pain relief and the costs to patients of certain nursing scope-of-practice limitations.

It’s also a story, written by a nurse, of encountering very different attitudes to human suffering in two different health care institutions after injuries sustained by her own children. There may or may not be clinical details or matters of protocol that don’t accord with every reader’s current clinical experiences, but the human interactions are as familiar as ever. Here’s a brief excerpt: Read the rest of this entry ?

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More Than Competencies and Checklists: The Shadow Side of Nurse Orientation

March 30, 2015

‘Developing beneficial working relationships is part of a successful nursing orientation. If you’re lucky, your preceptor is explaining the nuances.’

Julianna Paradisi, RN, OCN, is an oncology nurse navigator and writes a monthly post for this blog. The illustration below is hers.

Paradisi_Illustration_ShadowI led the first patient I had contact with as a nurse navigator to the hospital restrooms—this was her most pressing concern at the time. Building on this success, I now have a small number of patients to navigate through their cancer journeys, under advisement of my preceptors.

During this early stage, I’ve become aware that, running parallel to my orientation, a shadow orientation is also occurring.

This umbral orientation doesn’t come, like its more tangible counterpart, with a sheath of paperwork with competencies to perform or checklists to mark off. But it’s just as real. Awareness of shadow orientation develops on an intuitive level. While this experience is difficult to describe in words, it feels familiar.

Shadow orientations happen to everyone. Nearly 30 years and several nursing jobs since that first one, I’m acutely aware of the importance of a good first impression. Fortunately, this particular orientation of mine is going smoothly, but here are some observations based on past experiences.

Shadow orientation is present when you meet a staff member who makes it known this is her desk, her chair, her phone—maybe not in words, but with a look and a click of her tongue as she makes a great show of finding somewhere else to sit, despite your offer to give up the seat.

It’s happening when a physician won’t speak to you directly about your patient, instead giving his orders to the charge nurse, because you’re new. When you question it, she explains, “It takes him a long time to trust new nurses.” But she does nothing to facilitate an introduction between you.

Another example: There’s much discussion about working relationships between nurses and physicians, but little is said about the interactions between nurses and ancillary staff, such as respiratory therapists, X-ray technicians, phlebotomists, or unit secretaries. Each play important roles in patient care, but negotiating workflow can be a source of friction, depending on the individual’s level of professionalism.

I’m only partially joking when I advise striving for a good working relationship with the unit secretary. She or he knows who to call for a vacant bed, the phone and fax numbers you need, and how to make the office machines work. Even now, I can manage a patient safely on a ventilator, but am nearly helpless when the copier machine doesn’t work.

Developing beneficial working relationships is part of a successful nursing orientation. If you’re lucky, your preceptor is explaining the nuances. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Interprofessional Collaboration and Education: Making an Ideal a Reality

March 25, 2015
Photo courtesty of Penn Medicine.

Photo courtesty of Penn Medicine.

We hear a lot about interprofessional collaboration, the potentially dynamic and enlightening process of sharing knowledge across disciplines to improve patient care, but what’s being done to make this a reality?

The promotion of interprofessional collaboration is one focus of an ongoing national initiative by the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, as described in “Interprofessional Collaboration and Education,” an article in the March issue of AJN.

To close the gap between policy bullet points and the reality of daily work for nurses is neither impossible nor inevitable; it depends on smaller coalitions and the engagement of multiple organizations—but also, one imagines, a willingness to engage in inquiry and to try new and imperfect processes at the local level that may need refinement over time. The article is free, but here are a couple of paragraphs that give an a good overview of why it matters and where we are:

Interprofessional collaboration is based on the premise that when providers and patients communicate and consider each other’s unique perspective, they can better address the multiple factors that influence the health of individuals, families, and communities. No one provider can do all of this alone.

However, shifting the culture of health care away from the “silo” system, in which clinicians operate independently of one another, and toward collaboration has been attempted before without enduring success. For nearly five decades a commitment to interprofessional learning has waxed and waned in health professions training programs. During this time, health care leaders have shown intermittent interest in interprofessional collaboration in the delivery of health care. Strong and convincing outcome data demonstrating the value of team-based care have been lacking, but changes in our health care system now require that we explore how we can make interprofessional collaboration the norm instead of the exception.

Read the rest of this entry ?

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Missed Empathy, Missed Care: Is It Time to ‘Reconceptualize Efficiency’?

March 23, 2015

A physician’s lament is nursing’s, too.

By Maureen Shawn Kennedy, AJN editor-in-chief

By Alan Cleaver/via Flickr

By Alan Cleaver/via Flickr

Last week, the New York Times Well blog published “The Importance of Sitting With Patients” by Dhruv Khullar, a Harvard medical resident. Khullar expressed regret over not spending more time with a patient who was near death, and then discussed how little time residents actually spend with patients—eight minutes, according to a Journal of General Internal Medicine study (2013) that analyzed the time of 29 interns over a month. (The study found that only 12% of the residents’ time was spent on direct patient care; 40% of their time was spent on computers.)

Khullar detailed the various activities that take him away from direct patient contact and noted as well that the shorter working hours mandated for residents had the unintended consequence of reducing time with patients. He wondered:

By squeezing the same clinical and administrative work into fewer hours, do we inadvertently encourage completion of activities essential in the operational sense at the expense of activities essential in the human sense?

The second part of the question seemed especially pertinent for nurses. Hospital nurses have long lamented that paperwork, insufficient staffing, and nonnursing tasks keep them from the bedside. The promise of computers to reduce documentation time has yet to be realized, as first-generation documentation systems are not necessarily designed from a nursing perspective and often lack the specificity and flexibility to truly capture nursing activities. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Drive for Show, Putt for Dough: A Cliche With Some Truth for Nursing

March 13, 2015

By Clint Lange, BSN, RN, a MICU nurse at University Hospital, San Antonio, Texas.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Before becoming a registered nurse, I was a resident in the wonderful world of professional athletics, where cliches are fed to you almost as much as protein shakes and supplements.

I was a golfer, and golfers are the worst in terms of cliches. I sprained my eyes rolling them so much while listening to desperate golfers try to rationalize their poor performances or give themselves some hope. “I gave it 110%.” Ever take a math class? Because what you are saying isn’t possible. “It ain’t over till it’s over.” After that abysmal last hole, you are, in truth, officially mathematically eliminated from this tournament. For you, it’s over.

I’ll admit it, I’m cynical. I didn’t see the merit in cliches then and to a great extent I still don’t. But I have something else to admit; I’m kind of missing cliches. It seems one can’t quit them cold turkey without having withdrawal.

Or it could simply be that I played in a golf tournament recently for the first time in years, and I couldn’t help thinking about one of golf’s most-used phrases: Drive for show, putt for dough. It simply means that driving the ball is very flashy and fun to watch, but it is generally the guys or gals who are making putts who win the events and the most prize money. In the tournament, I drove it fine but didn’t make enough putts, thus finishing low in the prize money.

What’s alarming to me is that I’m finding it hard not to retrofit the aforementioned cliche into nursing, as I see many similarities. There are aspects of nursing that are flashy and make us seem better than our colleagues, while the other more mundane aspects that are more likely to be overlooked by our peers are really what make us successful and valuable nurses to our facilities—and more importantly, to our patients.

For the nongolfers, further explanation of components of the cliche is warranted. Driving is the first shot one takes on the longer golf holes using what is called a driver. The driver is the club in the golfer’s arsenal that they spent the most money on, produces the longest shot, loudest noise, and the most oohs and aahs from the gallery. There are even long drive contests where musclebound men get all medieval on the ball, to the delight of onlookers for prize money.

These are truly the “protein shake” professional golfers. In comparison, putting is anemic. It is in some cases a tap of the ball to finish out a hole. It doesn’t take much strength to do it, but each putt counts for as many strokes as a ball that was crushed 315 yards with a driver.

What it does take is repetition, discipline, and courage. We’ve all been exposed to “drive for show” nurses. These may be the ones who point out perceived flaws in care during bedside report in order to look good to the patient and family. These are also the ones who make the patient nice and pretty at the end of the shift while practically neglecting the patient for the previous 11 and a half hours. In the same vein, they are the ones who have checked the boxes for all of the duties that were completed on the task list while, in fact, not completing them. Read the rest of this entry ?

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