BACKGROUND: Nursing procedures that are routinely performed in the intensive care unit (ICU) are assumed to have minimal side effects. However, these procedures may sometimes cause physiological changes that negatively affect the patient. We hypothesized that physiological changes associated with routine nursing procedures in the ICU are common.
METHODS: A clinical observational study of 16 critically ill patients in a nine-bed mixed university hospital ICU. All nursing procedures were observed, and physiological data were collected and subsequently analyzed. Minor physiological changes were defined as minimal changes in respiratory or circulatory variables, and major physiological changes were marked as hyper/hypotension, bradycardia/tachycardia, bradypnea/tachypnea, ventilatory distress, and peripheral blood oxygen desaturation.
RESULTS: In the 16 patients, 668 procedures generated 158 major and 692 minor physiological changes during 187 observational hours. The most common procedure was patient position change, which also generated the majority of the physiological changes. The most common major physiological changes were blood oxygen desaturation, ventilatory distress, and hypotension, and the most common minor changes were arterial pressure alteration, coughing, and increase in respiratory rate.
CONCLUSION: In this pilot study, we examined physiological changes in connection with all regular routine nursing procedures in the ICU. We found that physiological changes were common and sometimes severe.