Context: Nurses are the primary hospital caregivers. Increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of nursing care is essential to hospital function and the delivery of safe patient care. Objective: We undertook a time and motion study to document how nurses spend their time. The goal was to identify drivers of inefficiency in nursing work processes and nursing unit design. Design: Nurses from 36 medical-surgical units were invited to participate in research protocols designed to assess how nurses spend their time, nurse location and movement, and nurse physiologic response.
Main Outcome Measures: Nurses’ time was divided into categories of activities (nursing practice, unit-related functions, nonclinical activities, and waste) and locations (patient room, nurse station, on-unit, off-unit). Total distance traveled and energy expenditure were assessed. Distance traveled was evaluated across types of unit design.
Results: A total of 767 nurses participated. More than threequarters of all reported time was devoted to nursing practice. Three subcategories accounted for most of nursing practice time: documentation (35.3%; 147.5 minutes), medication administration (17.2%; 72 minutes), and care coordination (20.6%; 86 minutes). Patient care activities accounted for 19.3% (81 minutes) of nursing practice time, and only 7.2% (31 minutes) of nursing practice time was considered to be used for patient assessment and reading of vital signs.
Conclusion: The time and motion study identified three main targets for improving the efficiency of nursing care: documentation, medication administration, and care coordination. Changes in technology, work processes, and unit organization and design may allow for substantial improvements in the use of nurses’ time and the safe delivery of care.