Demonstrating nurses' clinical decision-making

Gurbutt, Russell (2005) Demonstrating nurses' clinical decision-making. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The study answers the question: 'How can nurses' properly considered decisions relating to patient care be demonstrated?' Nurses in the United Kingdom have a professional requirement to demonstrate': the properly considered clinical decisions
relating to patient care' (UKCC, 1994; NMC, 2002). However, their decisionmaking has been reported as complex and poorly understood, and apart from nursing records, little evidence exists to demonstrate their decisions.
The development of the nurses' role as a decision-maker is traced from an origin in Nightingale's text (1860) through to the present day. This role is shaped by organisational, nursing and medical profession influences. Having established that
nurses have a role as decision-makers, a conceptual framework is used to examine different explanations about the decision process, outcome, context and how decisions are made. Before undertaking fieldwork, a survey of nurses' decision-making in general medical and surgical wards was conducted. The findings were compared with the conceptual framework to generate questions and avenues for enquiry.
An ethnographic study was undertaken in 1999 - 2000 in four general medical wards in two English provincial NHS Trusts with registered nurses (general). A model of decision-making was developed as a mid range theoretical explanation of how they made decisions. This involved a narrative based approach in which nurses generated an account (narrative) of knowing a patient and used this to identify needs. The patient was known in a narrative through three categories of information: nursing, management and medical. These categories were constructed through nurses' information seeking and processing using a tripartite conceptual lens. These facets correspond to different aspects of the nurse's role as a carer, care manager and medical assistant. The patient is known in three ways in a narrative, as a person to care for, an object to be managed, and as a medical case. An oral tradition surrounded its use, and nursing records were not central to decision-making. The narrative was used to make decisions and influence medical decisions.
Once it was established how nurses made decisions, a method was developed to show how they could demonstrate their properly considered clinical decisions relating to patient care. This involved using the narrative based decision-making model as an analytical framework applied to nurse decision narratives. Narrative based decisionmaking offers a development of existing descriptive theoretical accounts and new explanations of some features of the decision process. This particularly includes the use of personal note sheets, the role of judgements and the cycle of communicating the narrative to nurses and its subsequent development as a process of developing an explanation of how the patient is known.
Having addressed how nurses can demonstrate their properly considered clinical decisions relating to patient care, conclusions are drawn and implications explored in relation to practice, professional regulation, education and method.
Recommendations include a challenge to the assumption about decision-making underpinning existing NMC guidance on recordkeeping, and the need to recognise diversity of decision-making practice across different nursing sub-groups. The
narrative revealed nurses' ways of constructing knowing patients and rendering this visible. Nurses' not only have a duty, but also a need, to demonstrate decisions so that they can render visible what it is they are and do.

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