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10 Tips on How Nurses Can Improve Documentation

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By Marianne Belleza, R.N.

One of the tasks that a nurse must accomplish for every shift is their documentation of the patient’s care. This is considered a legal document that can be used in every court of law.

From the traditional handwritten notes until today’s high technology hospital documentation, the important aspects should never be forgotten. Whether it is on paper or a computer, we have to endeavor that we should create a documentation that is reliable, accountable, and precise.

Here are some tips that would make your documentation a stand-out and an example among the rest.

1. Objectivity is the key.

Only chart findings you personally saw or witnessed. During assessment, only document what you heard, saw, or felt, only the hard facts to avoid bias. Subjective opinions are a no-no. If you are documenting something a patient said, it is best to document word for word or verbatim. Some patients may use abusive and foul language, but never include them in your documentation. You can describe the patient’s behavior instead. Never forget to document refusals to treatment, the patient’s reasons, and your actions. You would not want to be responsible for the injury of a patient who refused treatment but you forgot to document it. It might warrant a legal case against you.

2. Mind the time.

Time is everything in the world of nursing. It gives you the power to control what could happen if you put time as your priority. Only document the procedures immediately after you have committed them. This may be a teeny bit hard to follow, especially if you handle more than two patients and you are up to your neck with work. But as much as possible, chart any findings and procedures close to the time after you have done it. Follow hospital protocol if you had a large gap between the executions of the procedure to the documentation.

3. Legible is credible.

Not all people are born with amazing handwriting. You may be one of those who are blessed with neat and straight handwriting, yet you may also belong to the ‘unfortunate’ ones who have handwriting that looks like chicken scratch. The only consideration for handwriting is their legibility. It must be readable no matter how disastrous the handwriting is. This would not be a problem for hospitals which have computerized charting systems, but for student nurses, you would be rotated at different facilities so you should be aware of how you chart.

4. Never too late to be accurate.

You may want to document everything that happened step by step, but remember that you are not writing a novel. Be accurate with what you are including in your documentation and avoid putting in your opinion about the patient. A precise, short documentation would allow the next nurse to understand quickly what was done before her and would get the idea in a nutshell faster than you could blink your eye.

5. Allergies are priorities.

Any adverse reactions and events that occurred should be documented, pronto! However much we promote the safety of our patients, there are still incidents when the patient develops an allergy to food, medication, or environmental pollutants. Make sure to follow the policies and procedures of the hospital in documenting adverse effects on patients.

6. Heads up for your abbreviations.

Most student nurses may have noticed a lot of abbreviated words when they check the chartings of the staff nurses. Many are confused because they have seen unfamiliar abbreviated terms and because staff nurses are somehow models to student nurses, they follow the same terms when they chart. Be aware of your abbreviations because there are standard abbreviations for medical terms and you cannot just make your own. Different healthcare facilities also have different abbreviations for certain terms, so be sure to check on the list of abbreviations before you venture in abbreviating for your charting. Improper abbreviated terms can be used against you in court if there is an issue regarding your care, and this is the point in our life that we should always, always avoid.

7. No to erasures.

Your charting documents are considered legal papers; therefore, erasures should be avoided. This would be a point of suspicion in court. Make sure that what you are charting is right before you put it on paper. A neat and clean documentation is praiseworthy, and a little positive commendation is also food for the soul and the ego, and for your performance, of course.

8. Think of your ink.

The only color advisable to use in legal papers are either blue or black ink. And because your charting notes are legal papers, use these ink colors and nothing else. It also adds uniformity to you chartings. Remember, you are not scribbling on your notepads, so the use of any colored inks besides blue and black is definitely prohibited.

9. Be a follower, not a false leader.

This pertains to following hospital standards and policies regarding proper chart documentation. Never institute your own policies, and never teach your colleagues on what to do if this is not a part of the hospital manual. Anything that you do on a legal premise could be used against you, and you would not want to lose your beloved license, right?

10. If it’s not yours, do not share.

The entries you make on a charting should be confidential. It should not be shared to anyone, even your friends and families. Every patient is entitled to their dose of confidentiality, and a breach of this principle could also put you behind the bars.

As our journey towards the world of nursing progresses onwards, let us never forget the simple things that could make or break our career. Most of us may take documentation for granted, but it is part and parcel of who we are as nurses. These simple things are our stepping stones to a great career, and once we are used to doing things the best way possible, then it would stay the same and your career would be greater than you could ever have imagined.

You can also check out https://nurseslabs.com/documentation-reporting-in-nursing/ for other information on documentation in nursing.

Marianne leads a double life, working as a staff nurse during the day and moonlighting as a writer for Nurseslabs at night. As an outpatient department nurse, she has honed her skills in delivering health education to her patients, making her a valuable resource and study guide writer for aspiring student nurses.

1 thought on “10 Tips on How Nurses Can Improve Documentation”

  1. Objectivity is important. #1 says to use direct quotes unless they are profane. Describing behaviors and actions objectively may still fall short of an accurate depiction of the situation. Vulgar comments may be quite relevant in documenting serious situations where patients are abusive or actions impair the ability to provide the standard of care.


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