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Surveillance Monitoring for All

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Breakout session at the upcoming NPSF Patient Safety Congress details an initiative to institute continuous surveillance monitoring on a large scale.

by Patricia McTiernan, MS

The Joint Commission’s 2012 Sentinel Event Alert #49 on the safe use of opioids in hospitals came as a wake-up call to many clinicians and leaders. Although opioids can be largely safe for many patients, the alert warned of dangerous potential side effects, particularly respiratory depression.

Just a few months after the release of that alert, an event related to respiratory depression and opioid analgesics resulted in a patient’s death at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC. A root cause analysis was conducted, and one of the recommended actions was to use surveillance monitoring of patients receiving opioids. That led to a major initiative resulting in widespread use of surveillance monitoring in multiple facilities.

Kristina Foard RN, MSNEd, SCRN, Nurse Practice Specialist, joined the effort to identify the best system for Wake Forest and assist with the implementation. She and Dr. Robert Weller, physician champion for the surveillance monitoring deployment and response to SE#49 at Wake Forest, were asked to evaluate some of the available bedside monitoring systems that would allow for surveillance monitoring.


Historically, medical/surgical nurses have relied on spot-checking their patients by collecting and recording vital signs every 4 to 8 hours. Of the opioid-related sentinel events reported to TJC between 2004 and 2011, 29% were related to improper monitoring of the patient. As early as 2011, the Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation was calling for continuous electronic monitoring of oxygenation and ventilation in patients on opioids.

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Once the Wake Forest team had evaluated the options, they began a 20-week pilot program on a neurosurgery unit. Because they wanted to capture as much data as they could during the pilot, they decided that any bedded patient on that unit would be placed on continuous monitoring. At the end of the pilot period, they evaluated the data with the nursing staff and with patient and family input. When they presented the results to their leadership team, the decision was made to deploy surveillance monitoring broadly throughout their institution.
Karen Luse, MSN, Robert Weller, MD, and
Kristina Foard, RN, MSNEd, SCRN, of Wake
Forest Baptist Medical Center. Ms. Luse and
Ms. Foard will present a Breakout Session at the
upcoming NPSF Patient Safety Congress
about their organization's experience
instituting continuous monitoring


“One important lesson we learned by monitoring everyone is that risk stratification is extremely difficult,” said Ms. Foard. “We like to look at comorbidities and whether patients are opioid naïve or opioid tolerant, if they are obese or have Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), because things like that put them at higher risk for opioid induced respiratory depression. But, in fact, many of the interventions triggered by continuous monitoring were not necessarily opioid-related. We also identified cardiovascular events including tachy- or bradydysrhythmias and hypo- or hypertension that we may have failed to identify if we hadn’t been doing surveillance monitoring on all patients.

“We elected then to apply surveillance monitoring as our standard of care. If you got bedded on a unit that had the monitoring, you were placed on monitoring and the provider had to write an order to remove you,” she added.

Some providers have asked for development of risk stratification that would allow for selective rather than surveillance monitoring of all patients, and this continues to be a barrier to overcome, Ms. Foard said. Both physicians and nurses commonly suggest that “young” and “healthy” patients did not need continuous monitoring, but an effective risk score to apply selective monitoring is not yet available.

Another challenge was alarm fatigue. The system cannot do the kind of critical thinking that nurses do, for example, so the team had to take care in setting wide enough parameters that would minimize non-actionable alarms without missing true deterioration events. These parameters were tested and optimized relative to alarm frequency. Ms. Foard and Dr. Weller also collaborated with their Rapid Response team to develop a flow chart to help the nursing staff manage and respond to alerts.

Ms. Foard and her co-presenter will discuss the technical challenges as well as the cultural challenges involved in such an initiative.

“Leadership support and buy-in from managers of the unit is an absolute must,” she said. “Without manager support, you’re not going to get the buy-in from the bedside nurses. Even beyond that, having the executive support for that cultural shift, especially a shift that impacts providers and nursing staff, is critical.”

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Kristina Foard and her co-presenter, Karen Luse, MSN, will talk about this initiative in Breakout Session 304: Surveillance Monitoring on General Care Floors, at the 19th Annual NPSF Patient Safety Congress. See details of the full Congress program.


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Patricia McTiernan is editor of the P.S. Blog. Contact her at

Tags:  2017 Patient Safety Congress  opioids  respiratory depression 

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