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Deciding which patient gets priority can be a life-and-death decision when dealing with multiple patients. To do this effectively, a nurse needs to both develop a “sixth sense” about patient care and to follow logical steps. Karen Owens, an emergency room nurse, says, “When you are working in triage, pay attention to the people who are quiet. If someone is well enough to complain, chances are they aren’t too sick. Anyone with chest pains automatically goes to the front of the line because that could signal a heart attack.”
Remember the principles of patient justice when making decisions in a multiple-patient situation. Try to treat all individuals equally, but also realize that in nursing it is not always possible because different patients have different needs. Some patients have life-threatening injuries, so they must be tended to first.
Assess the multiple-patient situation and establish priorities. Gauge the specifics of the situation and determine which patient has a better prognosis. According to the Modern Medicine website, if two patients have an equal need for care, but one has a better chance of pulling through, you should focus on the person with the better prognosis.
Coordinate your nursing plans with other staff members and decide who is going to do what for which patient. Create a list because it will help you stay focused. Refer to your list frequently to make sure you don't overlook anything you are supposed to do.
Talk to your co-workers about which patients get priority. In a multiple-patient situation, decisions are easier to make if you can discuss them with someone and get another opinion.
Try always to protect the safety of all people, including patients and medical personnel. As well as justice, remember the Hippocratic Oath: Do no harm.
Stay current in the health field. Check medical journals and online resources to keep abreast of new treatments and procedures. Knowing that you are doing the best you can will help you make the hard decisions.
- Karen Owens; emergency and intensive care nurse; Rock Hampton, Australia
- OHOState: Medical Center
- operation nurse image by Andrey Rakhmatullin from Fotolia.com