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Back To Basics: The ABCs of Nursing

sb10069454ab-001In nursing, we have come to rely on our ABCs for a variety of needs. The most widely known use of the acronym is in CPR for unconscious or unresponsive patients: A=airway, B=breathing, C=circulation, D=differential diagnosis or defibrillation.

Check out these other ways healthcare professionals use the ABCs to remember important information!

  • In 2010, the American Heart Association changed the order for cardiac arrest to CAB: C=chest compressions, A=airway and B=breathing.
  • The ABCs help clinicians predict stroke risk: A=age, B=blood pressure, C=clinical features, D=duration of symptoms.
  • ABCs for skin cancer help us distinguish a mole from a melanoma: A=asymmetry, B=borders irregularity, C=color irregularity and D=diameter (wider than 0.25 inches or growing).

Nursing priorities may also be bulleted with another set of ABCs: assessment, basic vitals, charting and drugs. It is essential that nurses in all settings are able to accurately assess and recognize patients who are at risk of becoming critically ill at an early stage and to effectively manage their care.

  • Assessment begins with — what else — ABCDE: A=airway, B=breathing, C=circulation, D=decreased consciousness, and E=everything else. “Everything else” includes a visual head-to-toe check of the patient, looking for abnormalities such as bleeding, bruising, hematomas, rashes or fractures.
  • Next, check basic vitals: temperature, heart rate, systolic blood pressure, respiratory rate, level of consciousness and urinary output.
  • Charting is the most reliable source of information we have to determine care given. Chart everything that is factual, including observations, nursing actions, patient’s response to treatment, safety precautions and attempts to reach the doctor. Do not chart subjective opinions, just the facts. Be accurate. Time, date and sign your entries. Try to chart as you go.
  • When you administer drugs, always observe the five “rights” first: right patient, right drug, right dose, right route, right time. Consider the right-to-know information about the drug: the right to refuse the drug, the right documentation, the right evaluation and monitoring, and the right reason for the drug. The Joint Commission recommends reading back and verifying all medication orders given verbally or over the telephone.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

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