Purpose: To document nurses' reported thinking processes during medication administration before and after implementation of point-of-care technology.
Design and Methods: Semistructured interviews and real-time tape recordings were used to document the thinking processes of 40 nurses practicing in inpatient care units in a large tertiary care teaching hospital in the northeastern US.
Findings: Content analysis resulted in identification of 10 descriptive categories of nurses' thinking: communication, dose-time, checking, assessment, evaluation, teaching, side effects, work arounds, anticipating problem solving, and drug administration. Situations requiring judgment in dosage, timing, or selection of specific medications (e.g., pain management, titration of antihypertensives) provided the most explicit data about nurses' use of critical thinking and clinical judgment. A key element was nurses' constant professional vigilance to ensure that patients received their appropriate medications.
Conclusions: Nurses' thinking processes extended beyond rules and procedures and were based on patient data and interdisciplinary professional knowledge to provide safe and effective care. Identification of thinking processes can help nurses to explain the professional expertise inherent in medication administration beyond the technical application of the “5 rights.”