The American Nurses Association statement on the scope of practice for correctional nurses requires that nurses be knowledgeable of the medications administered, including dosages, side effects, contraindications and allergies. Nurses also must be able to teach and coach patients so that they know what medications they are taking, the correct dose and frequency (2013). Many more drugs have been developed to effectively treat a wider variety of conditions in the last several decades and new drug formulations established which reduce treatment time, improve adherence and reduce the burden of side effects. With the proliferation of treatment choices available to prescribers today, the scope of knowledge required of nurses has expanded as well.
The types of health problems presented by our patients during incarceration is very broad therefore correctional nurses must maintain more expansive knowledge about the drugs likely to be prescribed than nurses who specialize their practice to a certain acuity (e.g., critical care) or particular health problem (e.g., kidney dialysis). It is impossible to memorize all this information so what references should a nurse use to aid their knowledge about medications these days? What are the drug references that you use?
A couple years ago another nurse and I were talking about a patient and one of the drugs that had been prescribed. I went in search of the big red text from the American Hospital Formulary Service. He turned to the computer and typed the drug’s name into Wikipedia and before I left the room he had the information we were looking for. The problem is that anyone can contribute information to Wikipedia and so the accuracy and completeness of drug information on this site has been examined. Drug information on Wikipedia relies most heavily on news articles and commercial websites rather than evidence-based material and the information, especially that which is safety related is not reliably updated (Koppen, Phillips & Papageorgiou 2015).
Nurses in one survey in the U.S. favored using the Physician’s Drug Reference (PDR) or a text written especially for nurses like Lippincott’s Nursing Drug Handbook (Gettig 2007). In another survey nurses reported that, other than the PDR, they relied most on other colleagues in the workplace. The problem with relying on co-workers for information about drugs is that the individual may not be available or authoritative on the subject. Access to information and ease of use were the most important factors in nurses’ choice of drug information resources so that quick and concise answers could be obtained (Ndosi & Newell 2010). As drug information has become more available in electronic format it can be more quickly accessed and is becoming a more reliable reference for busy correctional nurses.
The following is a list of drug references and applications that are available on line and can be obtained for free:
National Library of Medicine has three databases that are useful for nurses in medication management. The first is the Drug Information Portal which provides information on 53,000 drugs from government agencies and scientific journals. The second is Drugs, Herbs and Supplements providing information for patients about the purpose of drugs, correct dosages, side effects and potential interactions with dietary supplements and herbal remedies. Last is a database designed for use in emergencies and developed to help identify unlabeled pills called Pillbox.
Epocrates is one of the most widely used and highly recommended drug references. In addition to drug information the basic package which is free has a dose calculator, drug-drug interaction checker which includes OTC medication and a pill identification program. For an annual fee the program can be upgraded to access medical information, diagnostic information, a medical dictionary and infectious disease guidelines.
Medscape Mobile is a combination medical reference and drug database. In addition to clinical reference for 8,000 drugs, herbals and supplements it includes a robust drug-drug interaction checker and a dosage calculator.
A final resource that should be available at every correctional facility is the telephone number for the poison control center. This is a national hotline number (1 800 222-1212) which connects to the nearest poison control center. Most poison exposures can be treated locally if contact is made with a poison control center because they are staffed 24 hours seven days a week by health care professionals with special training. The facility should also stock a supply of antidotes for various types of poison. A consensus guideline published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine (2009) recommended stocking 12 antidotes available for immediate use in treatment (2009). Since then several poison control centers have lists on-line of recommended antidotes to have on hand.
Availability of antidotes is a decision that should be made by the facility medical director in consultation with the supplying pharmacy. Usually they are stored with other emergency medications. Nurses should be familiar with each antidote stocked at the facility for use in medical emergency care. Here is a link to a list of common drugs and antidotes that nurses should know about.
Are there any knowledge resources for nurses in managing medications that are not described here and should be? Please let us know about them by responding in the comments section of this post. For more about the opportunities and challenges in correctional nursing order a copy of our book, Essentials of Correctional Nursing directly from the publisher or from Amazon today!
ANA (2013). Correctional Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice. Silver Springs: American Nurses Association.
Dart, R.C., Borron, S.W., Caravati, E. M., et.al. (2009) Expert consensus guidelines for stocking of antidotes in hospitals that provide emergency care. Annals of Emergency Medicine 54 (3): 386-394.
Gettig, J.P. (2007). Drug information availability and preferences of health care professionals in Illinois: A pilot survey study. Drug Information Journal 42, 263-272.
Koppen, L., Phillips, J., Papageorgiou, R. (2015) Analysis of reference sources used in drug-related Wikipedia articles. Journal of the Medical Library Association 103 (3), 140- 144.
Ndosi, M. & Newell, R. (2010). Medicine information sources used by nurses at the point of care. Journal of Clinical Nursing 19, 2659-2661.
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