Assessing patients' needs: does the same information guide expert and novice nurses?

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The difficulties experienced by nurses in assessing patients before providing care have been the subject of enquiry for many years. Much has been written about the nursing process and, in particular, the data-collection component, where the nurse gathers information before deciding on a diagnosis and nursing intervention. There is, however, very little published on the differences between expert and novice nurses, in either the way they gather information or the emphasis placed on the different data sources accessed when preparing to carry out a nursing procedure. Communication between nurses is essential in the provision of safe, competent care, and yet we have minimal understanding of how experts use data sources to plan procedural care giving. This article reports on the findings of one component (the differences between expert and novice nurses in accessing data before implementing a nursing procedure) of a larger study into the identification of problem-solving strategies adopted by nurses during procedural care giving. The study was conducted in clinical settings and used a qualitative research methodology of observation followed by an in-depth semistructured interview. The study results indicate that expert and novice nurses accessed four similar information sources before meeting a patient. However, there were differences noted between the two groups in the amount of information accessed, as well as in the interpretation and use of that information. This is an important issue for nurse educators.

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