Nursing diagnoses, interventions and outcomes – application and impact on nursing practice: systematic review


  • Maria Müller-Staub Head of Pflege PBS EdN MNS RN,

  • Mary Ann Lavin ScD RN FAAN,

  • Ian Needham PhD EdN MNS RN,

  • Theo Van Achterberg MSc PhD RN

Maria Müller-Staub,
Stettlerstrasse 15,
CH – 3006 Bern,


Aim.  This paper reports a systematic review on the outcomes of nursing diagnostics. Specifically, it examines effects on documentation of assessment quality; frequency, accuracy and completeness of nursing diagnoses; and on coherence between nursing diagnoses, interventions and outcomes.

Background.  Escalating healthcare costs demand the measurement of nursing's contribution to care. Use of standardized terminologies facilitates this measurement. Although several studies have evaluated nursing diagnosis documentation and their relationship with interventions and outcomes, a systematic review has not been carried out.

Method.  A Medline, CINAHL, and Cochrane Database search (1982–2004) was conducted and enhanced by the addition of primary source and conference proceeding articles. Inclusion criteria were established and applied. Thirty-six articles were selected and subjected to thematic content analysis; each study was then assessed, and a level of evidence and grades of recommendations assigned.

Findings.  Nursing diagnosis use improved the quality of documented patient assessments (n = 14 studies), identification of commonly occurring diagnoses within similar settings (n = 10), and coherence among nursing diagnoses, interventions, and outcomes (n = 8). Four studies employed a continuing education intervention and found statistically significant improvements in the documentation of diagnoses, interventions and outcomes. However, limitations in diagnostic accuracy, reporting of signs/symptoms, and aetiology were also reported (14 studies). One meta-analysis of eight trials including 1497 patients showed no evidence that standardized electronic documentation of nursing diagnosis and related interventions led to better nursing outcomes.

Conclusion.  Despite variable results, the trend indicated that nursing diagnostics improved assessment documentation, the quality of interventions reported, and outcomes attained. The study reveals deficits in reporting of signs/symptoms and aetiology. Consequently, staff educational measures to enhance diagnostic accuracy are recommended. The relationships among diagnoses, interventions and outcomes require further evaluation. Studies are needed to determine the relationship between the quality of documentation and practice.