Diaries Magazine

Scripting Nurses is Bad for Patient Care

By Torontoemerg

This might be a new low in nursing management. Instead of actually providing caring, empathy and compassion, some hospitals would like nurses to provide a simulacrum of caring, empathy and compassion, believing patients are stupid enough not to tell the difference:

Nurses unions say an increasing number of hospitals nationwide are asking nurses to adhere to standard scripts when talking to patients, down to how often they use a patient’s name (at least three times per shift)

At several Massachusetts hospitals, nurses have been given laminated cards to hang around their necks with the words they should utter at the end of every visit: “Is there anything else I can do for you before I leave? I have the time while I am here in your room.’’

These particular words, consultants say, are important because of research showing that patients are more satisfied with their care when they believe nurses made time for them. [Emphasis mine.]

This is called “scripting.”  It’s the newest shiny object for nurse managers. The underlying philosophy is that it doesn’t really matter if the nurse in reality establishes a therapeutic relationship, administers a medication properly and safely, completes a thorough and accurate assessment, or does all the myriad (and out-of-sight) procedures and processes necessary to ensure a successful and healing visit. All of that falls by the wayside: what’s most important and valuable is that the patient believes they got good care.

Of course, there is a fairly large gap between reality and belief. When I worked in the United States, my employer was exceedingly concerned with customer relations (I use the phrase advisedly), and regularly called nurses on the carpet for (allegedly) dissing patients. I personally was the recipient of a patient complaint in this regard: she believed I was missing in action for her entire visit. Fortunately I had charted extensively and nearly hourly because she was also receiving some high doses of narcotics and spent most of her visit sleeping. My care, in fact, and I will blow my own horn here, was exemplary. But you see the point. There is no such thing as the completely satisfied patient. It is a myth. The capacity for patients being satisfied on every aspect of their care is nearly infinite. Unfortunately, our capacity to make patients satisfied in all things is rather constrained. Patient care is complicated. It’s impossible to account for every contingency. Furthermore, patients sometimes equate nursing care to hotel room service. Sadly, we aren’t bellhops or waitresses. Trying to achieve patient satisfaction in each and every case  is a ultimately a losing game.

In any case, the value of scripting nurses, at least in the Emergency department setting, might be limited. One study indicates patient satisfaction scores remained constant pre-and-post introduction of scripts in an ED. This suggests to me, anyway, that scripting is just another in a long series of quick fixes for a problem which is actually hides the real elephant in the room: the link between nurse working conditions and job satisfaction, and patient mortality, morbidity and overall satisfaction. Nurse Keith at Digital Doorways excellently discusses this in blog post on the same subject. I won’t rehearse the argument at length, which basically boils down to “happy nurses make for happy patients.

So in the end, do you think treating nurses like idiots would increase or decrease job satisfaction? And how do you think that affects patient care?

[Update: corrections in formatting made. I sometimes forget WYSIWYG blogging isn't always WYSIWYG.]


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