A major complaint patients have in hospitals is the lack of a timely response to their call light, having to wait for a nurse to tend to their needs. What is even worse is the embarrassment a patient experiences when voicing needs to a sometimes-anonymous person over the room intercom, “I need a bedpan”. Many times patient needs can be anticipated even before patients put on their call light.
I have been on both sides of the call light and I know how frustrating it is to wait for the hospital nurse to hang a new IV, silence an alarm, or to bring pain medications. While it is convenient, and sometimes more efficient, to speak to the patient over the intercom it is not always appropriate.
A nurse making regular rounds would know which patients need new IV bags when the alarm sounds. A nurse in tune with his patient’s needs should anticipate when the person requires pain medications, such as prior to getting out of bed after surgery.
Hospital nurses are required to set the volume of alarms audible enough to hear without the patient having to notify them even once. Unfortunately, nurses are known to lower the volume of alarms requiring the patient to call and wait. The astute nurse will have another IV bag ready to hang by anticipating the time left on the current bag of fluid.
If a patient has required pain medication every four hours, the hospital nurse should anticipate this need and be prepared to medicate the patient when they call for it. In addition, the hospital nurse should anticipate calling the doctor if it appears the patient is “clock watching” because this only means the patient’s pain is undertreated.
Another way to anticipate patient care needs is through shift report. If it is reported that a patient has frequent urination every hour or so, the nurse knows to make rounds on this patient frequently. Patients have fallen and injured themselves trying to rush to the restroom alone due to frequency.
Even something simple as a patient who likes to drink water can be anticipated to need at least two water pitchers. The patient does not have to wait and the hospital nurse can tend to more important issues than answering a call light for more water if they anticipate this need beforehand.
It takes practice and experience but anticipating a patient’s needs saves the hospital nurse valuable time of walking up and down, back and forth to the patient’s room. Shift report is a great starting point because the hospital nurse receives information of the patient’s care for the last 8-12 hours and can anticipate some of these needs for the next 8-12 hours. This saves the patient from having to wait for their needs to be met.
Another example is the patient who, as reported, needs anti-nausea medications prior to each meal. The hospital nurse then knows to be prepared to medicate the patient at least 30 minutes before meal times. This was a common occurrence on our cancer ward but some nurses seem to make patients wait anyway.
When the hospital patient has to wait too long, there can be adverse consequences. Not only does this increase the patient’s stress level but some become more ill waiting for a nurse to meet their needs.
Patients tend to use the call light more often if they do not know their care plan, for example, knowing what time they will get out of bed or ambulate. Communicating the plan of care with the patient is also important; they can anticipate when their next dose of pain or anti-nausea medication will be given instead of having to call for it.
The hospital nurse can be more efficient and proficient when they are in tune with their patient’s care and begin to anticipate their needs. It saves being called to the room too often between routine rounds. It also helps in setting priorities and with time management. More importantly, it decreases the time the patient has to wait for care.