Dodging Distractions: Five Tips to Improve Your Patient Focus
Prioritizing and quiet zones among solutions nurses can implement to improve patient care
By Melissa Hagstrom, Contributor
pagers, equipment alarms, documentation requirements, chatty colleagues and
countless other distractions on the hospital floor make it difficult for nurses
to avoid interruptions when caring for patients. In fact, dealing with such
distractions has become the subject of many research studies and case studies
on patient safety.
are several major initiatives and high-tech solutions available to address the
problem, there are also a few simple things staff and travel nurses can do immediately
that can make a difference.
Two experts on the topic identify five key things
you can do now--starting with your
next shift--to limit distractions, reduce the potential for errors and elevate
the level of your patient care:
1. Prioritize and delegate
"Have a plan for the day and prioritize your work. Identify
what needs to be done that day, and what can wait for another shift," said Juliana Brixey, RN, PhD,
an assistant professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center, School
of Biomedical Informatics, who has conducted several studies on the impact of
interruptions in the health care setting. "It's important to remember that
a hospital is a 24-hour operation, and sometimes you have to pass on tasks to the
Brixey indicated that delegating tasks to other people--whether it
is the unit secretary, charge nurse or nursing assistant--can help nurses focus
on the task at hand instead of moving to the requested task and hoping they'll
remember to come back to their original task. "Just because someone asks you to do something, doesn't mean you need to
stop right then and do it," Brixey added. "There are things in the
literature that show us when a nurse stops something to do something else,
errors do occur. If you're engaged doing something with the patient, that
should be your main priority."
2. Keep conversations to a minimum
Open lines of communication between nurses and patients are key to successful
outcomes, but minimizing outside conversations, gossip and other mindless chatter
can help to eliminate distractions and other interruptions. "[Nurses] can avoid
unnecessary chatter about things that do not relate to the work they are
doing," said Tess Pape, PhD, RN, CNOR, CNE, associate
professor and RN-to-BSN coordinator at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.
conversation to a minimum at the bedside or when doing medication
administration, because when you are stationary or stopped for a bit you become
a target for interruptions and distractions during that time because people
think they can get your attention," Brixey said.
3. Use special vests, signs
and quiet zones
Featured in the
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's (AHRQ) Innovation Exchange, Pape's
usage of checklists, quiet zones, and medication sashes or vests to reduce
distractions during medication administration is a best practice that has been
implemented at hospitals all over the United States.
should implement the no interruption or quiet zone in the medication area and
consider other environmental influences on nurses," Pape said. "In
addition, a visible symbol worn by the nurse prevents interference as the nurse
travels to the patient’s room with medications. Teamwork is also critical in
that other staff members must respect this critical time and help prevent
Implementing quiet zones or vests will require the approval of the
hospital or unit, but Pape encourages nurses to bring these solutions to their
managers, as her research shows these interventions can reduce medication
errors and near misses.
4. Move away from multitasking
We live in a
society where getting the most done in the shortest amount of time is viewed as
being productive and efficient, when in reality, multitasking can zap focus,
lead to errors and cause tasks to languish unfinished--especially in the health care
"So many times nurses think they can multitask at critical
times, and that is when errors occur," Pape said. "Multitasking among
some in the younger generation has almost become a badge of courage or medal of
honor. I have seen some nurses and many of my students with this attitude and
they had a near miss error as a result."
on one task at a time can help improve efficiency in your workflow and may
reduce overtime for the unit," Brixey said. "Keeping your focus on
the patient should be your most important task."
5. Realize it's okay to say “No”
you have to say no," Brixey said. "Maybe you are giving medicine or
doing a procedure at the bedside; something where you are engaged with the
patient and you can't always leave, sometimes in these situations you just have
to say ‘No.’"
nurses that they have a right to say “Not now,” or “Come back and talk to me
later,” is essential for reducing distractions and interruptions, Pape
health care organizations and nurses must realize that people are human and
that the potential for error to occur is real," Pape concluded. "People are just human
and we don't have the capacity to withstand being bombarded by conversation,
interruptions and noise and still be accurate in what we are doing. We need everyone to work to understand the
correlation between the environment you work in and the outcomes of your
Interested in improving patient care in a new environment? Check
out the high-paying travel nursing jobs available with NurseChoice.
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