Don’t Dismiss Your Head-to-Toe Assessment

virtruvian man

When you have 10 patients each day (yes, I said 10!), you start brainstorming how to make the most out of every minute you have and every assessment you make. As you can imagine, I don’t have a lot of extra time to dawdle. But the head-to-toe assessment is something I don’t want to miss out on, and here’s why.

The Initial Head-to-Toe Assessment Saves Time in the Long Run.

I know that it’s hard to believe that it’ll save time in the long run when you are rushing to get through your morning med pass on time, but assessing your patients within the first hour of your shift will make the rest of your shift more manageable.

At the facility I work at, we have certain assessments that we need to complete on patients, including a bowel and bladder, pain, range of motion, skin, and hydration assessments. Some of these assessments are rather lengthy. Instead of taking time out of my afternoon to go back into the patient’s room to ask a bunch of additional questions, I can complete the assessment form based off my initial head-to-toe from the morning. Bing. Bang. Boom. Done.

It Allows You to Do a Better Focused Assessment.

Once you have a baseline assessment of your patient, you are able to hone in on one or two potential problem areas to reassess as the day progresses. For example, if your patient is recovering from hip replacement surgery, a focused assessment may involve asking the patient about pain and looking at or even replacing the wound dressing.

If you are in a healthcare setting where you see the same patients every day (such as long-term care), you might be able to forgo the full head-to-toe on subsequent days with the patient. I would limit the full head-to-toe to once a week unless they were recently admitted to your facility or had a recent change in condition. If you are in an acute care setting, complete a head-to-toe every single shift.

It May Just Save Your Patient’s Life.

I know that sounds dramatic, but we have to remember that there is a reason the patient is in our care. I have been a nurse for less than a year, and I have already sent two patients to the hospital based on findings in my initial head-to-toe assessment. If our patients were well, they would not be in our care. We need to keep a close eye on any potential complications that might be popping up, and this starts with the initial head-to-toe!

And knowing the results from initial and focused assessments as well as admitting and secondary diagnoses will make you a better nurse. You’ll be able to pick up on subtle changes in your patient’s condition that may prevent a major complication from occurring in the first place!

In what ways have you found the head-to-toe assessment to be helpful for you and your patients? Leave your stories in the comment section below!

2 Comments, RSS

  1. creativemomlife March 7, 2016 @ 6:50 pm

    This is so true! As a nursing student we are required to do a head to toe assessment with every patient during clinical. I find that it is a perfect time to get to know your patient and it helps to guide you for your entire shift!

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