Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Latest Posts

Hospital Nursing Care: Some Observations And Suggestions

As I travel the country providing coverage for inpatient rehab units, I have been struck by the generally high quality of nursing care. Excellent nurses are the glue that holds a hospital unit together. They sound the first alarm when a patient’s health is at risk, they double-check orders and keep an eye out for medical errors. Nurses spend more time with patients than any other hospital staff, and they are therefore in the best position to comment on patient progress and any changes in their condition. An observant nurse nips problems in the bud – and this saves lives.

Not only are nurses under-appreciated and under-paid, they are suffering as much as physicians are with new digital documentation requirements. Just as patients are receiving less face time with their physicians, they are also suffering from a reduction in bedside attention from nurses. The need to record data has supplanted our ability to listen to the patient, causing anguish for patients, physicians, and nurses alike.

This being our lot (and with continued “quality improvement” policies that will simply add to the documentation burden) we must find ways to optimize patient care despite inane bureaucratic intrusions. I believe that there are some steps that nurses and doctors can take to improve patient care right now:

1. Minimize “floating.” (Floating is when a nurse is pulled from one part of the hospital to fill in for a gap in coverage in a different unit). It is extremely difficult for nurses to take care of a floor full of patients they’ve never met before. Every time that care of a patient is handed off to someone else (be they MD or RN), there is a risk of forgetting to follow through with a test, procedure, or work up. Simply knowing what “normal” looks like for a given patient can be incredibly important.

For example, left sided weakness is not concerning in a patient with a long-time history of stroke, but what if that is a new finding? If you’ve never met the patient before, you might not realize that the weakness is new and constitutes an emergency. How does a nurse know if a patient’s skin ulcer/rash/pain etc. is better or worse than yesterday? Verbal reports don’t always clarify sufficiently. There are endless advantages to minimizing staff turnover during a patient’s hospital stay. Reducing the total number of nurses who care for individual patients should be a number one priority in hospitals.

2. If you see something, say something. There are a host of reasons why nurses may be hesitant to report patient symptoms. Either they don’t know the patient well and think that the new issue could be “normal” for that patient, or perhaps the physician managing the patient has been unreceptive to previous notifications. However, I am always grateful when a nurse goes out of her way to tell me her concerns, because I generally find that she’s on to something important. My general rule is to over-communicate. If you see something, say something – because that episode of patient anxiety in the middle of the night could be a heart attack. And if I don’t know it’s happening, I can’t fix it.

3. Please don’t diagnose patients without input. I’ve found that nurses generally have excellent instincts about patients, and many times they correctly pinpoint their diagnosis. But other times they can be misled, which can impair their care priorities. For example, I had a patient who was having some difficulty breathing. The nurse told me about it immediately (which was great) but then she proceeded to assume that it was caused by a pulmonary embolism. I explained why I didn’t think this was the case, but she was quite insistent. So much so that when another patient began to have unstable vital signs (and I requested her help with preparing for a rapid response) she stayed with the former patient, believing that his problem was more acute. This doesn’t happen that frequently, but I think it serves as a reminder that physicians and nurses work best as a team when diagnostic conundrums exist.

4. Help me help you. Please do not hesitate to come to me when we need to clean up the EMR orders. If the patient has had blood glucose finger stick checks of about 100 at each of 4 checks every day for 2 weeks, then by golly let’s reduce the checking frequency! If the EMR lists Q4 hour weight checks (because the drop down box landed on “hour” instead of “day” when it was being ordered) I’d be happy to fix it. If a digital order appears out of the ordinary, ask the doctor about it. Maybe it was a mistake? Or maybe there’s a reason for Q4 hour neuro checks that you need to be aware of?

5. Let’s round together. Nurses and physicians should really spend more time talking about patients together. I know that some physicians may be resistant to attending nursing rounds due to time constraints, but I’ve found that there’s no better way to keep a unit humming than to comb through the patient cases carefully one time each day.

This may sound burdensome, but it ends up saving time, heads off problems, and gives nurses a clearer idea of what to look out for. Leaving nurses in the dark about your plan for the patient that day is not helpful – they end up searching through progress notes (for example) to try to guess if the patient is going to radiology or not, and how to schedule their meds around that excursion. Alternately, when it comes time to update your progress note, isn’t it nice to have the latest details on the patient’s condition? Nurses and doctors can save each other a lot of time with a quick, daily debrief.

6. Show me the wounds. Many patients have skin breakdown, rashes, or sores. These are critically important to treat and require careful observation to prevent progression. Doctors want to see wounds at regular intervals, but don’t always take the time to unwrap or turn the patient in order to get a clear view. Alternatively, some MDs simply unwrap/undress wounds at will, leaving the patient’s room without even telling the nurse that they need to be re-wrapped. In some cases, it takes a lot of time to re-dress the complex wound, adding a lot of work to the nurse’s already busy schedule (and offering little benefit, and some degree of discomfort, to the patient).

Nurses, on the other hand, have the opportunity to see wounds more frequently as they provide dressing changes or peri-care at regular intervals. Most nurses and doctors don’t seem to have a good process in place for wound checks. I usually make a deal with nurses that I won’t randomly destroy their dressing changes if they promise to call me to the patient’s bedside when they are in the middle of a scheduled change. This works fairly well, so long as I’m willing/able to drop everything I’m doing for a quick peek.

These are my top suggestions from my most recent travels. I’d be interested in hearing what nurses think about these suggestions, and if they have others for physicians. I’m always eager to improve my patient care, and optimizing my nursing partnerships is a large part of that. :lol:

Awesome Hydrocolloid Bandages Reduce Scarring After Mole Removal

I’m a dermatologist’s dream – a fair-skinned, freckly person with lots of small moles. The perfect candidate for a lifetime of 6-month skin checks!

Luckily for me, none of my moles have ever been cancerous. To be honest (please look the other way, dermatologist friends) I have sometimes put off skin checks for fear of being invited to undergo yet another biopsy. I’ve had about 9 procedures so far, and I have the scars to prove it. But this time around, I found a product that really reduced my healing time and scarring. I’m so excited about the results that I don’t care if I need a total-body shave biopsy next year. Bring it on! No one will be able to tell.

It is a little surprising that hydrocolloid gel technology hasn’t been on the consumer market for all that long (I wasn’t able to figure out when this product was launched in retail stores but it seems to me that I’ve only seen it around for the last few years or so). Hydrocolloid dressings are a staple in wound healing in the hospital setting, and I’ve seen marvelous results with pressure ulcer repair in the hands of experienced wound care nurses. The gel essentially creates a moist scaffold for skin cells to fill in defects and divots. The gel absorbs moisture from the skin and wound “oozing” while creating a sterile barrier against dirt and germs. The scab-less healing creates minimal scar tissue and the bandage is hypo-allergenic and incredibly flexible.

The product I used is called ActivFlex premium adhesive bandages (a Johnson & Johnson Band-Aid brand). I’ve seen generic knock-offs on store shelves but haven’t tried them. All I can say is that the experience has been terrific, and it’s such a relief to know that I don’t need to worry about scars from small cuts, burns, or mole biopsies any more. This is a fantastic invention – and I’d love to hear from others (be they dermatologists, plastic surgeons, or regular users of the product) to find out if they’ve had the same luck!

No need to fear skin checks anymore, my fair-skinned friends. You can recover nicely from procedures with a little hydrocolloid help from your local grocery store or pharmacy.

How To Treat Horse And Donkey Bite Wounds

Earlier this week this tweet from @prsjournal caught my eye

Most Popular: Management of Horse and Donkey Bite Wounds: A Series of 24 Cases: No abstract available

I missed this article when it came out in the June 2010 issue of the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Journal.  As I have covered fire ant bites, cat bites, and snake bites.  Fellow blogger Bongi has written about hippo bites.  It’s time to cover horse and donkey bites.

Dr. Köse, Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Harran University Hospital, Turkey and colleagues presented a retrospective evaluation of 24 patients treated for animal bites (19 horse and five donkey bites) from 2003 to 2009.  The head and neck were the most frequent bite sites (14 cases), followed by the extremities (8 cases) and the trunk (2 cases).

The article is very short, representing their personal viewpoint and experience. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Suture for a Living*

Bioadhesives For Repair Of Childbirth Lacerations

Bioadhesives are a reasonable alternative to sutures for repair of perineal lacerations sustained during childbirth, according to a poster presentation at last week’s annual meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine.

Researchers at the Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem randomized women with first degree perineal tears to either 2-octyl cyanoacrylate (Dermabond) adhesive glue or suture for wound closure. While healing and incisional pain was similar, women who received the adhesive closure were more satisfied than those who were sutured.

In Portugal, bioadhesives have been studied for closure of the top skin layer of an episiotomy repair, and found to shorten the duration of the procedure with similar outcomes to suture in terms of pain, healing, and infection.

Biologic adhesives are chemically related to Super Glue, which is ethyl-cyanoacrylate. Midwives have been using Super Glue for perineal wound repair for some time, according to Anne Frye, who has authored a book on wound closure for midwives, and who gives instructions for its use in repair of perineal lacerations. Apparently Super Glue was also used by the military during Vietnam for wound closure.

A PubMed search on Dermabond finds multiple studies of its use, from plastic surgery to mastectomy, surgical wound closure, retinal surgery, lung and gastric leak closure, and even on esophageal varices. RL Bates mentions Dermabond as an option to repair skin tears in elderly patients. This stuff is turning into the duct tape of the medical profession.

It’s important to remember that adhesives are only for superficial skin closure, as use in deeper layers can cause irritation and burning of tissues. Side effects of their use include irritation and allergic reactions and of course wound infections, and pain can always occur no matter how one closes a wound.

*This blog post was originally published at The Blog That Ate Manhattan*

Color-Changing Dressing Indicates Infections

When using dressings to speed up the healing process of an open wound, it is necessary to periodically remove the dressing to check for infection. However, removing this protective covering creates an opportunity for bacteria to enter the wound site.

To remedy this problem, researchers at the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Modular Solid State Technologies EMFT have developed dressings which change color if the wound becomes infected. Early tests have shown promise, and the scientists now plan to test their invention in the field at the University of Regensburg’s dermatology clinic. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medgadget*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »