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Keywords:

  • judicial;
  • Grounded Theory;
  • nursing assessment;
  • mixed-method review

ABSTRACT

Background: Much skilled nursing practice is described by words that at face value appear low-tech and self-explanatory. Despite being intrinsic to practice, the term “nursing assessment” has few operational definitions. Evidence-based practice and the quality agenda makes it imperative that this term is well understood.

Objectives: To contribute to the evidence base and facilitate a greater understanding of assessment of patients as carried out by nurses through exploring the research question: How is the term “nursing assessment” used in the current health care literature?

Design: The review process, synthesised from the work of Greenhalgh et al. (2005), Clancy (2002), Egger et al. (2001), identified and assessed the quality of articles, text books, the grey literature, policy documents and databases. Glaser's Grounded Theory (GT) method was utilised to analyse the concept of “assessment” as exemplified within the included studies.

Methods: The focus for this mixed-method review is the health care literature between 1990 and 2005. Studies were identified, screened and assessed for methodological quality and data were extracted and recorded. Analysis of the included studies was facilitated using a GT approach. Possible tensions when using a mixed-method research design are acknowledged and briefly discussed.

Results: Of the 32,602 instances initially identified, 329 articles, policy documents and book extracts were closely read and after further screening, 120 articles and 12 policy documents and book extracts were analysed. Seven overlapping categories were identified, with “judicial” or “judgement making” identified as the core category.

Conclusions: Hierarchies of nursing practice, government policies and inter-professional agendas cause barriers to meaningful assessment. Informal and formal assessments and screening processes are often conflated, resulting in confusion regarding the scope and nature of the process. Differences between the rhetoric of placing the patient at the heart of the assessment process and practice have been identified.