BACKGROUND: Research has shown that critical care nurses show low accuracy on written tests of placement of electrodes, yet it is unknown how this low accuracy translates into placement of electrodes on actual patients. OBJECTIVES: To determine if accuracy scores differ between three methods (written knowledge, simulated clinical practice, actual clinical practice) of evaluating placement of continuous ECG electrodes by a group of cardiac care nurses. METHODS: A standardized scoring diagram was used with three different methods of measuring the accuracy of 44 nurses who worked on a telemetry unit or medical ICU in placing continuous ECG electrodes. The three methods were (1) written knowledge--placement of stickers on a diagram of a torso, (2) simulated clinical practice--placement of electrodes on a human model, and (3) actual clinical practice--placement of electrodes on an assigned patient. RESULTS: For the total diagram score (maximum score = 11), no significant differences among groups were found. For the V1 subscale score (maximum score = 4), a significant difference among groups was found: Scheffe's test showed that the significant difference was between simulated and actual clinical practice. Percentages of nurses achieving the maximum, or accurate, score were 18% for written knowledge, 25% for simulated clinical practice, and 9% for actual clinical practice. CONCLUSIONS: Although total scores did not differ among groups, the mean scores indicate that placement of electrodes was not accurate by any method. This finding has implications for how electrode placement is taught to nurses and for the accountability of nurses for placement of electrodes on their patients.

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