Relevance of the expression “obs stable” in nursing observations: retrospective study

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Abstract

Objective

To ascertain whether use of the term “obs stable” with respect to the nursing observations is so liberal as to render it meaningless.

Design

Retrospective study.

Setting

Three teaching hospitals in London, United Kingdom.

Methods

We searched progress notes for the current admission of 46 inpatients for entries containing the phrases “obs stable” and “observations stable,” and reviewed the nursing observations recorded during the 24 hour period preceding each entry containing at least one phrase. We calculated the frequency of abnormalities and of persistent abnormalities (defined as occurring in every observation) observed during these 24 hour periods, and the range of observation values over a 24 hour period if at least two observations had been recorded.

Results

We found at least one entry in 36 (78%) progress notes (95% confidence interval 66% to 90%). Observations in the 24 hours preceding an entry included at least one abnormality for 113 (71%) of 159 cases and at least one persistent abnormality for 31 (19%). The most frequently occurring abnormalities were tachypnoea (respiratory rate ≥20 breaths/min) and hypotension (systolic blood pressure <100 mm Hg). An abnormality occurred in the observations immediately preceding an entry in 42% of cases. Mean ranges of observations over 24 hours were within the limits of normal diurnal variation, although we found that some instances of greater than normal variability were described as “stable.”

Conclusions

The expression “obs stable” does not reliably indicate normal observations or variations in observations within physiological limits. Doctors should avoid using the expression altogether or clarify it with further information.

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