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Keywords:

  • monitoring;
  • nurses;
  • physical health;
  • risk management;
  • screening;
  • side effects

Aims and objectives

To explore nurses’ views on the role of nurses in screening and monitoring for physical care of consumers with serious mental illness, at a regional mental health care service.

Background

People with serious mental illness experience heightened incidence of preventable and treatable physical illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Screening and monitoring are considered universal clinical safeguards. Nurses can potentially facilitate systematic screening, but their views on physical health care practices are rarely investigated.

Design

Qualitative exploratory study.

Method

Focus group interviews with 38 nurses of a regional mental health care service district of Australia. To facilitate discussion, participants were presented with a screening system, called the Health Improvement Profile (HIP), as an exemplar of screening of physical health risks by nurses. Inductive data analysis and theme development were guided by a thematic analysis framework.

Results

Nurses argued that treatable and preventable physical health problems were common. Four main themes were identified: screening – essential for good practice; the policy-practice gap; ‘screening then what?’ and, is HIP the answer? Screening and monitoring were considered crucial to proper diagnosis and treatment, however, were not performed systematically or consistently. Nurse readiness for an enhanced role in screening was shaped by: role and responsibility issues, legal liability concerns, funding and staff shortages. Participants were concerned that lack of follow up would limit effectiveness of these interventions.

Conclusions

Screening was considered an important clinical step in effective diagnosis and treatment; however, identified barriers need to be addressed to ensure screening is part of a systemic approach to improve physical health of consumers with serious mental illness.

Relevance to clinical practice

Nurses have potential to influence improvement in physical health outcomes for consumers of mental health services. Such potential can only be realised if a systematic approach to physical health care is taken.