Palliative care nurses' recognition and assessment of delirium symptoms: A qualitative study using Critical Incident Technique
Delirium is prevalent in palliative care inpatient settings and management is often challenging. Despite nurses’ integral patient care role, little is known about palliative care nurses’ capacity to recognise, assess and respond to patients’ delirium symptoms.
To explore the experiences, views and practices of inpatient palliative care nurses in delirium recognition and assessment.
Settings and participants
30 nurses from nine Australian specialist palliative care inpatient services.
Design and methods
Critical incident technique (CIT) guided a series of semi-structured interviews. Prior to interviews participants were given a vignette of a palliative care inpatient with an unrecognised hypoactive delirium, to prompt their recollection and recounting of a similar clinical incident. Clearly recalled and described incidents were analysed using thematic content analysis.
20 of 30 participants recalled and described 28 relevant delirium incidents. Two themes and six sub-themes provide a general description of participants’ experiences, views and practice in delirium recognition and assessment. Participants experience distress related to caring for patients with delirium and express compassion and empathy for delirious patients. Enhancing their delirium knowledge, strengthening collaborative multidisciplinary team relationships and better communication are important supports. Some participants, usually those in advance practice roles, describe more comprehensive assessment capabilities that incorporate clinical expertise with whole person awareness, yet systematic and structured delirium screening and assessment processes and application of the delirium diagnosis criteria are largely missing. Use of ambiguous terminology to describe delirium symptoms contributes to ineffective practice.
The findings of this study expands our understanding of how palliative care nurses’ capacity to recognise and assess patients’ delirium symptoms in the inpatient setting could be strengthened.