In critical care units, the neurologic examination (neuro exam) is used to detect changes in neurologic function. Serial neuro exams are a hallmark of monitoring in neuroscience ICUs. But less is known about neuro exams that are performed in non-neuroscience ICUs. This knowledge gap likely contributes to the insufficient guidance on what constitutes an adequate neuro exam for patients admitted to a non-neuroscience ICU.
The study purpose was to explore existing practices for documenting neuro exams in ICUs that don't routinely admit patients with a primary neurologic injury.
A single-center, prospective, observational study examined documented neuro exams performed in medical, surgical, and cardiovascular ICUs. A comprehensive neuro exam assesses seven domains that can be divided into 20 components. In this study, each component was scored as present (documentation was found) or absent (documentation was not found); a domain was scored as present if one or more of its components had been documented.
There were 1,482 assessments documented on 120 patients over a one-week period. A majority of patients were male (56%), White (71%), non-Hispanic (77%), and over 60 years of age (50%). Overall, assessments of the domains of consciousness, injury severity, and cranial nerve function were documented 80% of the time or more. Assessments of the domains of pain, motor function, and sensory function were documented less than 60% of the time, and that of speech less than 5% of the time. Statistically significant differences in documentation were found between the medical, surgical, and cardiovascular ICUs for the domains of speech, cranial nerve function, and pain. There were no significant differences in documentation frequency between day and night shift nurses. Documentation practices were significantly different for RNs versus providers.
Our findings show that the frequency and specific components of neuro exam documentation vary significantly across nurses, providers, and ICUs. These findings are relevant for nurses and providers and may help to improve guidance for neurologic assessment of patients in non-neurologic ICUs. Further studies exploring variance in documentation practices and their implications for courses of treatment and patient outcomes are warranted.