J Clin Nurs. 2023 Jul 25. doi: 10.1111/jocn.16835. Online ahead of print.
AIMS AND OBJECTIVES: The aim of this study was to determine how much time nurses spend on direct and indirect patient care in acute and subacute hospital settings.
BACKGROUND: Quantifying direct and indirect nursing care provided during inpatient stay is vital to optimise the quality of care and manage resources.
DESIGN: Time and motion cross-sectional observational study and reported the study according to the STROBE guideline.
METHODS: Nurses working in an acute or subacute medical wards of a single health service participated. Nurses were observed twice for 2 h on the same day with an observer break in between sessions. Real-time task-related data were digitally recorded using the Work Observation Method By Activity Timing (WOMBAT) tool by a single research assistant. Frequency and time spent on pre-determined tasks were recorded and included direct care, indirect care, documentation, medication-related tasks, communication (professional) and other tasks. Task interruptions and multitasking were also recorded.
RESULTS: Twenty-one nurses (acute n = 12, subacute n = 9) were observed during shifts between 7 AM and 9 PM in May-July 2021. A total of 7240 tasks were recorded. Nurses spent a third of their time on direct patient care (27% direct care and 3% medication administration). A total of 556 task interruptions occurred, mostly during documentation, and medication-related tasks. A further 1385 tasks were performed in parallel with other tasks, that is multitasking.
CONCLUSIONS: Time spent on tasks was similar regardless of the setting and was consistent with previous research. We found differences in the distribution of tasks throughout the day between settings, which could have implications for workforce planning and needs to be investigated further. Interruptions occurred during documentation, direct care and medication-related tasks. Local-level strategies should be in place and regularly revised to reduce interruptions and prevent errors. Relevance to clinical practice The association between interruption and increased risk of error is well-established and should be an ongoing area of attention including observations and education provided in local settings.