Brain injury with changes in clinical neurological signs and symptoms can develop while children are undergoing treatment in the intensive care unit. Critical care nurses routinely screen for neurological decline by using serial bedside neurological assessments. However, assessment components, frequency, and communication thresholds are not standardized.
To standardize neurological assessment procedures used by nurses, improve compliance with physicians’ ordering and nurses’ documentation of neurological assessments, and explore the frequency with which changes from preillness neurological status and previous assessments can be detected by using the assessment tool developed.
A quality improvement intervention was implemented during a 1-year period in a 55-bed pediatric intensive care unit with 274 nurses. Procedures for neurological assessment by nurses were standardized, a system for physicians to order neurological assessments by nurses at a frequency based on the patient’s risk for brain injury was developed and implemented, and a system to compare patients’ current neurological status with their preillness neurological status was developed and implemented.
Process metrics that focused on compliance of ordering and documenting the standardized neurological assessments indicated improvement and sustained compliance greater than 80%. Exploratory analyses indicated that 29% of patients had an episode of neurological decline and that these episodes were more common in patients with developmental disabilities than in patients without such disabilities.
Compliance with physicians’ ordering and nurses’ documentation of standardized neurological assessments significantly increased and had excellent sustainability. Further work is needed to determine the sensitivity of standardized nurses’ neurological assessment tools for clinically meaningful neurological decline.