Background Adverse events and serious errors are common in critical care. Although factors in the work environment are important predictors of adverse outcomes for patients, communication between nurses and physicians may be the most significant factor associated with excess hospital mortality in critical care settings.

Objectives To examine the relationships between nurses’ perceptions of their practice environment, nurse-physician communication, and selected patients’ outcomes.

Methods A nonexperimental, descriptive design was used, and all nurses (N=866) working in 25 intensive care units in southeastern Michigan were surveyed. The Conditions for Work Effectiveness Questionnaire-II and the Practice Environment Scale of the Nursing Work Index were used to measure characteristics of the work environment; the ICU Nurse-Physician Questionnaire was used to measure nurse-physician communication. Nurses self-rated the frequency of ventilator-associated pneumonia, catheter-related sepsis, and medication errors in patients under their care.

Results A total of 462 nurses (53%) responded. According to multilevel modeling, both practice environment scales accounted for 47% of the variance in nurse-physician communication scores (P=.001). Nurse-physician communication was predictive of nurse-assessed medication errors only (R2=0.11). Neither environment scale was predictive of any of the patient outcomes.

Conclusions Healthy work environments are important for nurse-physician communication. In intensive care units, characteristics of the work environment did not vary enough to be significantly predictive of outcomes, suggesting that even in various types of critical care units, characteristics of the work environment may be more similar than different.

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