Dyspnea (breathing discomfort) is commonly experienced by critically ill patients and at this time is not routinely assessed and documented. Intensive care unit nurses at the study institution recently instituted routine assessment and documentation of dyspnea in all patients able to report using a numeric scale ranging from 0 to 10.


To assess nurses’ perceptions of the utility of routine dyspnea measurement, patients’ comprehension of assessment questions, and the impact on nursing practice and to gather nurses’ suggestions for improvement.


Data were obtained from interviews with intensive care unit nurses in small focus groups and an anonymous online survey randomly distributed to nurses representing all intensive care units.


Intensive care unit nurses affirmed the importance of routine dyspnea assessment and documentation. Before implementing the measurement tool, nurses often assessed for breathing discomfort in patients by using observed signs. Most nurses agreed that routine assessment can be used to predict patients’ outcomes and improve patient-centered care. Nurses found the assessment tool easy to use and reported that it did not interfere with workflow. Nurses felt that patients were able to provide meaningful ratings of dyspnea, similar to ratings of pain, and often used patients’ ratings in conjunction with observed physical signs to optimize patient care.


Our study shows that nurses understand the importance of routine dyspnea assessment and that the addition of a simple patient report scale can improve care delivery and does not add to the burden of work-flow.

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