Rolling Out Changes So Nurses Aren’t Under a Rock

I was about to administer a chemotherapy infusion. The carboplatin dose was double-checked by a co-worker. First, she calculated the patient’s GFR and then the AUC (area under the curve). 

Area Under the Curve by jparadisirn

Area Under the Curve by jparadisirn

Independently, I calculated the GFR and then calculated the AUC using the carboplatin dose calculator I found on the hospital’s online resource. Following those directions, I plugged in the patient’s GFR, serum creatinine, weight, height, etc. My coworker and I came up with the same answer. Whew.

When the IV bag of carboplatin arrived from pharmacy, we reviewed the bag’s label against our calculations, completing the double check. Holy moley! The dose in the IV bag was different from our calculation. The process stopped while I made a phone call to the pharmacist. Here’s what I learned:

“We cap the serum creatinine value at 0.8 and the GFR at 125. Your patient’s creatinine is 0.6, which increases the GFR above the cap. The dose is based on the capped values.”

“Oh,” I replied.

This is what the FDA says about carboplatin dosing:

Based on preliminary communications with the National Cancer Institute/Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program, a potential safety issue with carboplatin dosing has been identified. By the end of 2010, all clinical laboratories in the US will use the new standardized Isotope Dilution Mass Spectrometry (IDMS) method to measure serum creatinine. The IDMS method appears to underestimate serum creatinine values compared to older methods when the serum creatinine values are relatively low (e.g., ~0.7 mg/dL). Measurement of serum creatinine by the IDMS-method could result in an overestimation of the Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR) in some patients with normal renal function. If the total carboplatin dose is calculated based on IDMS-measured serum creatinine using the Calvert formula, carboplatin dosing couldbe higher than desired and could result in increased drug-related toxicity.

I must have been under a rock when this happened. Using the capped values, we recalculated the same dose as in the IV bag. I administered the carboplatin. Problem solved — or is it?

Afterward, I vaguely recalled an email from pharmacy sometime last year (or maybe it was a few months ago?) explaining the change in carboplatin dosing. That was the entire rollout of this information. Did in-patient nurses receive more information or an in-service? I don’t know.

I applaud pharmacy for initiating a best-practice in medication dosing. I also feel that a significant change such as this requires more than an informal email, and I suspect this happens often to nurses working in hospitals.

Nurses are expected to assess a patient’s understanding of the education we provide. Likewise, significant changes in clinical practice should be coordinated across departments, using nurse educators and managers to assess their nurses’ awareness and understanding.

Have you had similar experiences missing crucial information that was informally communicated?

Nurses: Do You Carry Liability Insurance?

When I was fresh out of nursing school, all bright and shiny, I bought a personal liability insurance policy, because I saw right away how easy it is to make a serious nursing mistake. As years passed, however, I let the policy lapse. At various new employee orientations throughout my career, hospital administrators told us forthrightly,

Umbrella of Safety by jparadisi

Umbrella of Safety by jparadisi

Nurses do not need liability insurance. Nurses are covered under the umbrella of this hospital’s insurance policy. The hospital is the financial deep pocket. No one sues individual nurses.

For years, this made sense. Lately, however, I’ve been rethinking this stance, for multiple reasons:

Stories of hospitals firing a nurse after he or she made a serious (often fatal) mistake are more frequent in the news. Perhaps this occurs because of the terms of the settlement. Perhaps the hospital promises a patient’s family that it will no longer employ the nurse. Or perhaps the nurse violated a hospital policy or protocol, and the hospital agrees not to disclose against the nurse in exchange for laying him or her off. Either way, the public never knows why. Does the umbrella of a hospital’s insurance cover a nurse they fired?

Commercially, the argument for purchasing personal liability insurance, even if the nurse is not fired, is this:

When a serious event occurs, the hospital’s legal department works on behalf of the hospital, not the nurses involved. A nurse’s legal rights and reputation are not the legal department’s priority. In such a scenario, an attorney hired by the nurse, working on her behalf and covered by her liability insurance, is a good investment.

Some insurance policies cover the costs incurred when a nurse is called to stand before their state board of nursing for complaints or misunderstandings filed against them.

Those who feel liability insurance is unnecessary argue that it cuts individual nurses “out of the group,” implying that being sued collectively offers more security.

Patient acuity is increasing, as are patient care loads. Many medications bear similar names, but cause very different results. As technology advances, nurses are required to maintain higher levels of vigilance. In the meantime, I’m getting older and acutely of how easy it is to make a serious nursing mistake.

Do you carry nurse liability insurance? Why or why not?


 “All nurses are different. Some just jab the needle into you, and it hurts.”

-A patient

White Gloves by jparadisi

White Gloves by jparadisi

Few things make me feel more successful as a nurse than when a patient says, “That was the most painless port access, (IV start, or injection) I’ve ever had.” I can never promise a patient I won’t hurt them, but when I don’t, it makes my day. I strive for a gentle hand. 

In art the term “hand” describes the workmanship of an artist, and nurses often tell patients going to surgery, “You’re in good hands,” referring to a surgeon’s skill with a scalpel. But “hand” refers to the way we treat people too.

Whether educating patients about chemotherapy and radiation regimens, explaining home medication administration, or simply discussing current events, it’s important to remember that even the most optimistic patient is emotionally fragile. Tone of voice, the abruptness of an encounter, and our choice of words all contribute to the “hand” we touch them with emotionally. Too heavy of a conversational hand can pierce a patient’s soul as painfully as any needle or scalpel.

I forgot this during a shift memorable for both the number and acuity of its patients. Everyone had complex questions about their care. I enjoy patient education; however, this shift I was doing so much that I began pulling information from my knowledge base as if it were files from a computer. By this, I mean remotely. I wasn’t paying attention to hand, my personal touch.

During the course of an assessment, a patient revealed she wasn’t taking a prescribed home medication because of its side effects. The patient also reported a symptom, which I recognized was caused by the discontinuation of the home medication she’d just mentioned, and I just sort of blurted out my observation. Immediately, I regretted my heavy-handedness as I saw this otherwise optimistic patient crumble nearly to the point of tears. I had carelessly broken a tender reed.

Needing to make amends, I sat on the rolly stool, and I apologized. I complimented her involvement in her care, and her ability to sense changes in her body. I also apologized for abruptly responding to the discontinuation of her medication. I regained my gently touch, she forgave me, and we devised with a care plan.

I hope I made up careless hand. I had hurt her as if I’d jabbed her with a needle.