Smith, Linda S. DSN, MS, RN, CLNC
Nursing and interdisciplinary committees in the workplace, as well as professional organizations, maintain minutes to serve as a formal record of the meeting proceedings. Proper documentation of meeting minutes is a valuable skill for nurses in all practice settings.
Do you feel confident to be your group's record keeper? To enhance your abilities to prepare accurate professional meeting minutes, read on.
Why are accurate minutes so important?
Well-documented meeting minutes have four major purposes: They serve as communication tools, legal documents, instruments for good management practices, and historic records.1,2
* Meeting minutes are communication tools for the dissemination of important information, such as the decisions made by the clinical research or evidence-based practice committee in preparation for the facility's Magnet® application.
* Admissible as evidence during a legal deposition or trial, meeting minutes can be used to verify compliance with policies, rules, regulations, or other requirements.1,2 For example, a facility's infection control committee minutes could be subpoenaed by attorneys during a bedbug infestation lawsuit.
* Managers, supervisors, and administrators use meeting minutes to help identify who's going to do what and when, creating a great opportunity for follow-up on issues and problems.3 Minutes guide managers' decision making related to future meetings and needed agenda items. Minutes are also important tools for project management, moving projects forward with the aid of well-written reports of progress and commitments.3,4 These publicly stated commitments facilitate members' accountability and responsibility for the committee's work and purpose.
* As historic documents, meeting minutes help new and current participants remember what has and hasn't already been accomplished. They also help committee chairs and administrators evaluate the successes and problems of the committee. For example, following a careful meeting minute analysis and synthesis, the administration may decide that it's more effective in terms of costs and time to combine two ailing committees into one powerful group.
Considerations for meeting minutes
Although their format is governed by unit and institutional guidelines, meeting minutes should follow established policies and standards of practice. They're stored electronically for easy retrieval of information by topics, headings, dates, phrases, and key words. Easy retrieval is essential during accreditation and Magnet recognition surveys.
If the meeting includes potential action or votes based on reports such as those from ad hoc committees, it's a good idea to distribute copies of those reports well ahead of the meeting. Also, consider including them as attachments to your minutes. Studying premeeting information will help you organize and write your minutes.
For a full list of what to include in meeting minutes, see Essentials for meeting minutes.
Tips for minute takers
Follow these guidelines to produce professional and accurate meeting minutes:
* Consult the most current edition of Robert's Rules of Order for information on taking minutes.5 (This guide can be ordered at http://www.robertsrules.com/.)
* Use the agenda. The preidentified meeting agenda presents a logical sequence of planned meeting events and provides a perfect guide and outline for your meeting record. Load the agenda into your laptop computer or tablet so you can use it as an outline guide to structure your word-processed minutes. The meeting agenda is only a guide because you'll record the minutes in chronologic order, even if the agenda has been rearranged. That is, if the agenda lists a topic as number eight, but it's discussed second, your minutes should reflect the actual sequence.
* Start with a heading such as “Meeting minutes of the XYZ committee.” Then list the pertinent details as outlined in Essentials for meeting minutes.
* Sit close to the officiating officer so you can easily ask questions and get clarifications.
* Circulate an attendance list. Clearly write the meeting's name, date, and time at the top.
* If participants' names are unfamiliar to you, take advantage of a seating chart, name tags, or placards.
* Take minutes with a laptop or tablet in addition to any recording device used, such as a video camera with sound or a digital voice recorder. Make sure paper and pens are available in case of electronic problems.
* Ensure that your electronic devices (such as laptops, tablets, recorders, or smart boards) are connected, working well, and have a battery life twice the expected length of the meeting.
* Ask for clarification and information whenever you're unsure about something. Although attendees have the opportunity to amend the minutes during subsequent meetings, complete accuracy is the ultimate goal.
* Listen carefully during discussions and synthesize key points, focusing on concerns that were discussed. You may wish to create a grid or table that includes headings such as issue or concern, discussion, and result, including people and timelines. Various software companies have meeting minute templates that can streamline your minute-taking tasks. Also, for a great template, examine previously recorded minutes and follow that standard, if appropriate.
* Keep your writing clear, objective, and succinct.
* Before distributing the minutes, spell check and proofread the document carefully, then send it to the chair for approval.
* Include your name at the end as the recorder of the minutes.
What not to do
Finally, here's some advice about pitfalls to avoid:
* Don't add your opinion or bias to the minutes. Minutes must be impartial.
* Don't include lengthy details of each discussion.
* Don't delay writing up the minutes. Finish them as soon as you can, while your memory is clear. The best record keepers prepare their minutes immediately after the meeting, when all the details are fresh.4,6
* Don't feel intimidated by this important record-keeping task. Nurses routinely document unbiased, objective information as part of patient care–you already have the excellent skills needed!
Ethical and legal considerations
Because they play an important historic and legal function, even serving as legal documents, meeting events must be accurately and objectively reported and recorded. Keep in mind that taking meeting minutes is more than merely taking notes.7
Your facility's attorney should be consulted when balancing confidentiality with mandates from accreditation or other regulatory groups. For example, when meeting minutes reflect sensitive topics such as performance improvement or peer review, access to the minutes needs to be restricted. For accuracy as well as confidentiality, it's important to have just one “minutes” file and one keeper of this file.2 With confidentiality concerns clearly in mind, legally defensible policies need to be written and followed about who writes, controls, has access to, and will receive copies of the minutes after each meeting.2
Likewise, preestablished and agreed-upon ground rules for confidentiality, meeting attendance, timeliness, and members' expected behaviors are essential. For example, members are expected to arrive on time and remain for the duration of the meeting. Everyone needs to respect and listen to other members, and follow time limits and agenda items.8 Finally, all meeting-related policies and procedures should be reviewed and updated regularly.
Ready to write and roll
Meeting minutes showcase the work accomplished by groups or committees. Timely and accurate documentation not only reflects the past and present state, but also helps to establish the course for future actions.
Essentials for meeting minutes
Professional meeting minutes usually include the following, which correspond with agenda items:
* the organization or facility and committee name as well as the meeting'slocation, time, place, and date
* meeting purpose or objective and officiating officer
* meeting start and end times
* agenda review and approval
* approval (or amending) of previously written meeting minutes
* meeting participants, who they are (if appropriate), and if a quorum has been achieved; possibly also names of those who are absent and those who arrive late or leave early
* unfinished business (including open or tabled items)
* new business
* a record of all motions and the outcomes of all votes
* key discussion items and actions that have been agreed upon
* additional items, including announcements
* a final item that identifies a meeting summary and conclusion with a quick identification of assignments and timelines
* an attachments list.
© 2013 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.