Consistency is the hallmark of a culture focused on safety and quality, but it should also come as no surprise that consistency is one of the most difficult qualities of care to maintain. It is all too easy for organizations to be distracted by a new method or metric in trying to accomplish quality or satisfaction goals, and what gets overlooked are the basics of patient care: the basics of clear explanations, the basics of listening, the basics of responding to call lights, and the basics of effective pain management (just to name a few).
When it comes to pain management, nothing could be more basic than the process of administering medications to our patients. The essentials of this process are telling the patient four things: the medication’s name, the dosage, the medication’s purpose, and any side effects they might experience. The idea here is that these four pieces of information should be repeated EVERY TIME for EVERY PATIENT. Now if that sounds repetitive…it is…and it is for a reason.
It’s all about patient education, and repetition is a great tool for learning—especially for patients whose main job in the hospital is to learn: learning about their diagnosis, learning how to manage pain, learning about their medications and side effects. Don’t forget that all of this information can be new and scary to patients. Not to mention that most of it is effectively in a foreign language. Repetition is key to make sure a patient’s medication information is heard and remembered, and this won’t all happen on the first telling. The first time they got their meds, maybe they caught the name; at the third administration, maybe they heard the side effects and made a connection with how they had felt earlier.
Repetition in the medication administration process is also helpful to family members. Not only can they hear, remember and remind the patient about their medications, but family members can frequently change over the course of a stay. Repeating these same four items for each medication can help different family members pick up and reinforce different parts of a patient’s medication education.
As soon as you start talking about processes and “scripting” there is usually a very vocal group of frontline staff that balk at the idea. I have read and heard comments saying that it relegates them to “robots” and takes away their relationship with their patients. Of course, no one wants nurses to have their own individuality and style of care controlled from on high, but comments like these are an oversimplification of scripting—focusing too much on the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law. The idea behind this process is so that the patient hears what they need to hear every time, so that they might be educated by the time they leave your care.
Let’s not forget to approach our patient interactions and medication administration experiences with a sense of empathy. We must remember that while this is the 40th time we’ve explained the name, dosage, purpose and side effects of Lortab today, it’s the first time your patient has heard it—or maybe it’s the third time you’ve told them, but it will be the first time they truly hear you.
We don’t need to look at scripting or a process as something that removes or replaces our personal interactions with our patients—rather, the process is there to make sure we communicate with our patients effectively and educate them correctly.
So, if we can agree that a process doesn’t kill our individuality as care providers, and that it can be extremely beneficial to patient education and safety, then we should lay out that process. Fortunately, it’s simple.
Our patients want to be educated. They want to know what they are taking and why, and there is no better time to educate them than when you are administering their medications. Our patients expect to be partners in their own care, and they deserve to be educated on precisely why they are taking their medications.
For every medication, at every administration, there are four main subjects that should be covered: the medications name, the dosage, the purpose of the medication, and the possible side effects.
When telling your patient the name of a medication, use the name as ordered to avoid any confusion later.
Tell the patient dosage amount that they might hear their providers use or read on their bottle at home.
Use a brief, clear explanation of why their doctor is ordering the medication or how it will help.
Keep the terminology on their level, and begin by describing the more common side effects and then the more serious side effects. Let them know that these side effects can be managed to put them at ease, and most importantly, make sure they know to contact you or their nurse if they need the side effects addressed.
The basic statement might look like this: “Mr. Cumberbatch, here is your Lortab for your pain, it’s ten milligrams and you might feel some drowsiness or light-headedness.”
If you’re struggling with this process because you feel forced in communicating with your patients, try leaning into the repetition. Try saying, “I know I say this every time but…” or “Here it is again…” before you give them the four points for their medications. While the repetition might initially feel cumbersome or annoying to you, the winning result will be when your patient can tell you the name, dosage, purpose, and side effects of each of their medications. When it comes to patient education and patient safety, there is no substitute for a simple process consistently delivered to every patient.