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Clinical management of fever by nurses: doing what works


  • Hilaire J. Thompson,

    1. Hilaire J. Thompson PhD RN FAAN Assistant Professor Biobehavioral Nursing and Health Systems, The University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA
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  • Sarah H. Kagan

    1. Sarah H. Kagan PhD RN FAAN Lucy Walker Honorary Term Professor of Gerontological Nursing – Clinician Educator The University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
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thompson h.j. & kagan s.h. (2011) Clinical management of fever by nurses: doing what works. Journal of Advanced Nursing67(2), 359–370.


Aims.  The specific aims were to (1) define fever from the nurse’s perspective; (2) describe fever management decision-making by nurses and (3) describe barriers to evidence-based practice across various settings.

Background.  Publication of practice guidelines, which address fever management, has not yielded improvements in nursing care. This may be related to differences in ways nurses define and approach fever.

Method.  The collective case study approach was used to guide the process of data collection and analysis. Data were collected during 2006–7. Transcripts were coded using the constant comparative method until themes were identified. Cross-case comparison was conducted. The nursing process was used as an analytical filter for refinement and presentation of the findings.

Findings.  Nurses across settings defined fever as a (single) elevated temperature that exceeded some established protocol. Regardless of practice setting, interventions chosen by nurses were frequently based on trial and error or individual conventions –‘what works’– rather than evidence-based practice. Some nurses’ accounts indicated use of interventions that were clearly contraindicated by the literature. Participants working on dedicated neuroscience units articulated specific differences in patient care more than those working on mixed units.

Conclusions.  By defining a set temperature for intervention, protocols may serve as a barrier to critical clinical judgment. We recommend that protocols be developed in an interdisciplinary manner to foster local adaptation of best practices. This could further best practice by encouraging individual nurses to think of protocols not as a recipe, but rather as a guide when individualizing patient care. There is value of specialty knowledge in narrowing the translational gap, offering institutions evidence for planning and structuring the organization of care.