American Academy of Nursing

Fifteen Things Nurses and Patients Should Question

Released October 16, 2014 (1-5), April 23, 2015 (6-10) and June 12, 2016 (11-15)

  1. 1

    Don’t automatically initiate continuous electronic fetal heart rate (FHR) monitoring during labor for women without risk factors; consider intermittent auscultation (IA) first.

    Continuous electronic FHR monitoring during labor, a routine procedure in many hospitals, is associated with an increase in cesarean and instrumental births without improving Apgar score, NICU admission or intrapartum fetal death rates. IA allows women more freedom of movement during labor, enhancing their ability to cope with labor pain and utilize gravity to promote labor progress. Upright positions and walking have been associated with shorter duration of first stage labor, fewer cesareans and reduced epidural use.

  2. 2

    Don’t let older adults lie in bed or only get up to a chair during their hospital stay.

    Up to 65% of older adults who are independent in their ability to walk will lose their ability to walk during a hospital stay. Walking during the hospital stay is critical for maintaining functional ability in older adults. Loss of walking independence increases the length of hospital stay, the need for rehabilitation services, new nursing home placement, risk for falls both during and after discharge from the hospital, places higher demands on caregivers and increases the risk of death for older adults. Bed rest or limited walking (only sitting up in a chair) during a hospital stay causes deconditioning and is one of the primary factors for loss of walking independence in hospitalized older adults. Older adults who walk during their hospital stay are able to walk farther by discharge, are discharged from the hospital sooner, have improvement in their ability to independently perform basic activities of daily living, and have a faster recovery rate after surgery.

  3. 3

    Don’t use physical restraints with an older hospitalized patient.

    Restraints cause more problems than they solve, including serious complications and even death. Physical restraints are most often applied when behavioral expressions of distress and/or a change in medical status occur. These situations require immediate assessment and attention, not restraint. Safe, quality care without restraints can be achieved when multidisciplinary teams and/or geriatric nurse experts help staff anticipate, identify and address problems; family members or other caregivers are consulted about the patient’s usual routine, behavior and care; systematic observation and assessment measures and early discontinuation of invasive treatment devices are implemented; staff are educated about restraints and the organizational culture and structure support restraint-free care.

  4. 4

    Don’t wake the patient for routine care unless the patient’s condition or care specifically requires it.

    Studies show sleep deprivation negatively affects breathing, circulation, immune status, hormonal function and metabolism. Sleep deprivation also impacts the ability to perform physical activities and can lead to delirium, depression and other psychiatric impairments. Multiple environmental factors affect a hospitalized person’s ability for normal sleep. Factors include noise, patient care activities and patient-related factors such as pain, medication and co-existing health conditions.

  5. 5

    Don’t place or maintain a urinary catheter in a patient unless there is a specific indication to do so.

    Catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTIs) are among the most common health care-associated infections in the United States. Most CAUTIs are related to urinary catheters so the infections can largely be prevented by reduced use of indwelling urinary catheters and catheter removal as soon as possible. CAUTIs are responsible for an increase in U.S. health care costs and can lead to more serious complications in hospitalized patients.

  6. 6

    Don’t use aloe vera on skin to prevent or treat radiodermatitis.

    Radiodermatitis can cause patient pain and pruritus that affect quality of life, body image and sleep. Severe radiodermatitis can necessitate dose reductions or treatment delays that negatively impact the ability to adequately treat the cancer. The incidence of radiodermatitis can be as high 95% depending upon the population of patients receiving treatment. Studies documenting incidence have primarily occurred in women receiving treatment for breast cancer.

    Many Internet sites market aloe to individuals for what is commonly termed “sunburn type” reactions from radiation therapy. Research evidence shows that aloe vera is not beneficial for the prevention or treatment of radiodermatitis, and one study reported worse patient outcomes with use of aloe vera.

    Patients undergoing radiation therapy need to know that aloe vera should not be used to prevent or treat skin reactions from radiation therapy, since it has been shown to be ineffective and has the potential to make skin reactions worse.

  7. 7

    Don’t use L-carnitine/acetyl-L-carnitine supplements to prevent or treat symptoms of peripheral neuropathy in patients receiving chemotherapy for treatment of cancer.

    Peripheral neuropathy is a chronic side effect of some chemotherapeutic agents. This can be a significant quality of life issue for patients, affecting functional ability and comfort. In the public realm, numerous Internet sites that sell herbal and dietary supplements have specifically recommended L-carnitine/acetyl-L-carnitine for symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. This supplement is available without a physician prescription. Evidence not only has shown use of carnitine supplements to be ineffective, but research also has shown it may make symptoms worse. Current professional guidelines contain a strong recommendation against the use of L-carnitine for prevention of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. Nurses need to educate patients not to use this dietary supplement while undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.

  8. 8

    Don’t neglect to advise patients with cancer to get physical activity and exercise during and after treatment to manage fatigue and other symptoms.

    During treatment for cancer, up to 99% of patients will have fatigue and many individuals continue to experience persistent fatigue for years after completion of treatment. It is the natural tendency for people to try to get more rest when feeling fatigued and health care providers have traditionally been educated about the importance of getting rest and avoiding strenuous activity when ill. In contrast to these traditional views, resistance and aerobic exercise have been shown to be safe, feasible and effective in reducing symptoms of fatigue during multiple phases of cancer care. Exercise has also been shown to have a positive effect on symptoms of anxiety and depression. Current professional guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate-level exercise such as fast-walking, cycling or swimming per week along with 2-3 strength training sessions per week, unless specifically contraindicated.

  9. 9

    Don’t use mixed medication mouthwash, commonly termed “magic mouthwash,” to prevent or manage cancer treatment-induced oral mucositis.

    Oral mucositis is a painful and debilitating side effect of some chemotherapeutic agents and radiation therapy that includes the oral mucosa in the treatment field. Painful mucositis impairs the ability to eat and drink fluids and impacts quality of life. Oral mucositis can result in the need for hospitalization for pain control and provision of total parenteral nutrition in order to maintain adequate nutritional intake during cancer treatment.Mixed medication mouthwash, also commonly known by other names such as “magic mouthwash,” “Duke’s magic mouthwash,” or “Mary’s magic mouthwash,” is commonly used to prevent or treat oral mucositis. These are often compounded by a pharmacy, are expensive and may not be covered by health insurance. Research has shown that magic mouthwash was reported to cause taste changes, irritating local side effects and is no more effective than salt and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) rinses. Instead, frequent and consistent oral hygiene and use of salt or soda mouth rinses can be used.

  10. 10

    Don’t administer supplemental oxygen to relieve dyspnea in patients with cancer who do not have hypoxia.

    Reports of the prevalence of dyspnea range from 21 to 90% overall among patients with cancer, and the prevalence and severity of dyspnea increase in the last six months of life, regardless of cancer diagnosis. Supplemental oxygen therapy is commonly prescribed to relieve dyspnea in people with advanced illness despite arterial oxygen levels within normal limits, and has been seen as standard care. Supplemental oxygen is costly and there are multiple safety risks associated with use of oxygen equipment. People also experience functional restriction and may have some distress from being attached to a device. Palliative oxygen (administration in nonhypoxic patients) has consistently been shown not to improve dyspnea in individual studies and systematic reviews. Rather than use a costly and ineffective intervention for dyspnea, care should be focused on those interventions which have demonstrated efficacy such as immediate release opioids.

  11. 11

    Don’t promote induction or augmentation of labor and don’t induce or augment labor without a medical indication; spontaneous labor is safest for woman and infant, with benefits that improve safety and promote short- and long-term maternal and infant health.

    The rate of induction in the United States (23.4% of all births) has more than doubled since 1990. The increase is not thought to be attributable to a similar rise in medical conditions in pregnancy that warrant induction of labor.

    Researchers have demonstrated that induction of labor for any reason increases the risk for a number of complications for women and infants. Induced labor results in more postpartum hemorrhage than spontaneous labor, which increases the risk for blood transfusion, hysterectomy, placenta implantation abnormalities in future pregnancies, a longer hospital stay, and more hospital re-admissions. Induction of labor is also associated with a significantly higher risk of cesarean birth. For infants, a number of negative health effects are associated with induction, including increased fetal stress and respiratory illness.

    Research on the risk-to-benefit ratio of elective augmentation of labor is limited. However, many of the risks associated with elective induction may extend to augmentation. In a recent systematic review, the authors found that women with slow progress in the first stage of spontaneous labor who underwent augmentation with exogenous oxytocin, compared with women who did not receive oxytocin, had similar rates of cesarean. Such results call into question a primary rationale for labor augmentation, which is the reduction of cesarean surgery.

    In addition to the serious health problems associated with non-medically indicated induction of labor, hospitals, insurers, providers and women must consider a number of financial implications associated with the practice. In the United States, the average cost of an uncomplicated cesarean birth is 68% higher than the cost of an uncomplicated vaginal birth. Further, women who deliver vaginally have shorter hospital stays, fewer hospital readmissions, faster recoveries and fewer infections than those who have cesareans.

  12. 12

    Don’t prescribe opioid pain medication in pregnancy without discussing and fully weighing the risks to the woman and her fetus.

    In utero exposure to opioids can lead to risks for the infant, including neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) and/or developmental deficits affecting behavior and cognition.

    Pregnant women’s use of opioids dramatically increased from 1.19 per 1000 hospital births in 2000 to 5.63 per 1000 hospital births in 2009. Prescription opioids are among the most effective medications for the treatment of pain. However, regular or long-term use of opioids can create physical dependence and in some cases, addiction. Women who are prescribed, or continue to use, opioids during pregnancy may not understand the risks to themselves or their babies.

    Pregnant women and their fetuses are an inherently vulnerable population and opioid dependence increases their vulnerability. Women using opioids during pregnancy were shown to have higher rates of depression, anxiety and chronic medical conditions as well as increased risks for preterm labor, poor fetal growth and stillbirth.

    Women who used opioids during pregnancy were four times as likely to have a prolonged hospital stay compared to nonusers and incurred signifi more per-hospitalization cost.

    Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) occurs in newborns that are exposed to substances, typically opioids, while in their mothers’ wombs. In utero exposure to these substances can cause a newborn to experience withdrawal symptoms after birth. Symptoms of NAS vary depending on the type and amount of the substance that the mother used, how the mother and fetus metabolize the drug and how long the mother used the drug. Symptoms of NAS range from blotchy skin and sneezing, to respiratory complications, low birth weight, prematurity, feeding difficulties, extreme irritability and seizures.

  13. 13

    Don’t separate mothers and their newborns at birth unless medically necessary. Instead, help the mother to place her newborn in skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth and encourage her to keep her newborn in her room during hospitalization after the birth.

    Keeping mothers and newborns together promotes maternal-infant attachment, early and sustained breastfeeding and physiologic stability. Early initiation of skin-to-skin care and breastfeeding promotes optimal outcomes and can significantly reduce morbidity for healthy term and preterm or vulnerable newborns. Breastfeeding is the ideal form of infant nutrition and should be the societal norm. Given the numerous health benefits for infant and mother and the health care cost savings associated with breastfeeding, breastfeeding has become a global public health initiative that can improve the overall health of nations. Ideally, infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life; after the first six months, appropriate complementary foods should be introduced, and the infant should continue to breastfeed for 1–2 years, or longer as desired. Worldwide, the lives of an estimated 1.5 million children less than the age of five would be saved annually if all children were fed according to this standard.

  14. 14

    Don’t administer “prn” (i.e., as needed) sedative, antipsychotic or hypnotic medications to prevent and/or treat delirium without first assessing for, removing and treating the underlying causes of delirium and using nonpharmacologic delirium prevention and treatment approaches.

    The most important step in treating delirium is identifying, removing and treating the underlying cause(s) of delirium. Delirium is often a direct physiological consequence of another medical condition, substance intoxication or withdrawal, exposure to a toxin, or is due to multiple etiologies. Clinicians should therefore perform a detailed history and physical exam, order appropriate laboratory/diagnostic tests, conduct a thorough medication review, and discontinue any potentially deliriogenic medications. Because numerous medications or medication classes are associated with the development of delirium (e.g., benzodiazepines, anticholinergics, diphenhydramine, sedative-hypnotics), their administration on a prn basis should be avoided if possible. Moreover, due to the potential for harm and lack of sufficient evidence supporting the safety and efficacy of antipsychotics for the prevention and treatment of delirium, these medications should be administered only at the lowest effective dose, for the shortest amount of time, in patients who are severely agitated and/or at risk for harming themselves and/or others. In terms of delirium prevention, it is recommended health systems should implement multicomponent, nonpharmacologic interventions that are delivered consistently throughout hospitalization by the interdisciplinary team.

  15. 15

    Don’t assume a diagnosis of dementia in an older adult who presents with an altered mental status and/or symptoms of confusion without assessing for delirium or delirium superimposed on dementia using a brief, sensitive, validated assessment tool.

    Delirium is common in older adults, especially in the hospital setting, yet delirium is frequently unrecognized and not documented by nursing or medical staff. Delirium occurs in as much as 50% of older adults in the hospital and delirium superimposed on dementia occurs in as high as 90%
    of hospitalized older adults. Delirium is associated with very poor clinical outcomes, including prolonged length of stay, high costs and lower quality of life for older adults when not detected early. Delirium is treatable and often reversible and dementia is not, so mislabeling older adults with dementia may miss a life threatening underlying condition causing the delirium such as an infection, medication side effect or subdural hematoma. Delirium is extremely costly to the health care system and to society with estimates ranging from $143 to $152 billion annually. Nurses and physicians often fail to recognize delirium. Only 12–35% of delirium cases are detected in routine care, with hypoactive delirium and delirium superimposed on dementia most likely to be missed.

These items are provided solely for informational purposes and are not intended as a substitute for consultation with a health professional. Patients with any specific questions about the items on this list or their individual situation should consult their physician or nurse.

The American Academy of Nursing serves the public and the nursing profession by advancing health policy and practice through the generation, synthesis, and dissemination of nursing knowledge. The Academy’s more than 2,300 fellows are nursing’s most accomplished leaders in education, management, practice, and research. They have been recognized for their extraordinary contributions to nursing and the promotion of the health of the public through evidence-based health policies.

For more information about the American Academy of Nursing, visit www.AANnet.org.

How This List Was Created

The American Academy of Nursing has convened a workgroup of member fellows who are leaders of professional nursing organizations representing a broad range of clinical expertise, practice settings and patient populations. The workgroup collaboratively identifies nursing/interdisciplinary interventions commonly used in clinical practice that do not contribute to improved patient outcomes or provide high value. An extensive literature search and review of practice guidelines is conducted for each new proposed recommendation for the list. The supporting evidence is then reviewed by the respective nursing organization(s) with the most relevant expertise to each recommendation. The Academy workgroup fellows narrow the recommendations through consensus, based on established criteria. The final recommendations are presented to the American Academy of Nursing’s Board of Directors for approval to be added to the Choosing Wisely list created by the Academy.

The American Academy of Nursing’s conflict of interests and disclosures policy can be found at www.AANnet.org.

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