Background Positioning patients is a key component of nursing care and can affect their morbidity and mortality. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that patients receiving mechanical ventilation have the head of the bed elevated 30°to 45°to prevent nosocomial pneumonia. However, use of higher backrest positions for critically ill patients is not common nursing practice. Backrest elevation may be affected by the accuracy of nurses’ estimates of patients’ positions.

Objectives To determine the difference between nurses’ estimates of bed angles and measured bed angles and to describe the relationship between nurses’ characteristics and the accuracy of their estimates.

Methods A convenience sample of 67 nurses attending the 1999 American Association of Critical-Care Nurses National Teaching Institute and Critical Care Exposition in New Orleans, La. Each subject provided demographic information and estimated 3 bed angles. The angles were preselected by using a random number table. Summary statistics were used and were categorized according to the demographic information provided by participants. Estimated angles were correlated with measured angles, and accuracies in estimating angles were correlated with demographic characteristics.

Results Nurses were accurate in estimating bed angles (correlation, 0.8488). Demographic information, including sex, age, years of practice, years of critical care practice, basic education, highest educational level, and present position had no relationship to accuracy.

Conclusions Nurses are able to estimate backrest elevation accurately. Other explanations are needed to understand why recommendations for backrest elevation are not used in practice.

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