Barriers to Accurate Fluid Measurement in Perioperative Patients: A Mixed Methods Approach

Chase J. Wehrle, Morgan Walker, Ayana Worthey, Caitlin E. Jones, Frank Lewis, Tania K. Arora

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Surgeons depend on fluid intake and output (I/O) measurements for assessment of resuscitation and fluid balance during the perioperative period. Frequently, these measurements are taken by Registered Nurses (RNs) and/or Patient Care Technicians (PCTs). There is variability in the accuracy and consistency of these measurements across nursing units. The goal of this study is to establish what barriers exist in obtaining accurate fluid measurements and potential solutions. Materials and methods: A mixed-method, sequential study design was utilized. First, a survey was conducted at a tertiary care institution of 8 nonintensive care nursing units assessing the perceptions of RNs (n = 85) and PCTs (n = 38) regarding fluid intake and output measurements for surgical patients. Four focus groups were then conducted to expand upon the results of the survey. Fourteen participants (10 RNs and 4 PCTs) were interviewed, and transcripts were analyzed by three reviewers. Qualitative data were manually coded by reviewers using a hierarchical methodology. Results: Survey response rate was 40.6%. The strongest barriers in the survey were patient load and staff time limitations. About half (49%) of the respondents acknowledged that fluid measurements were inaccurate half of the time. PCTs spend more time collecting and charting I/Os and have higher patient loads (P < 0.001) than RNs. PCTs noted more difficulty with complex patients (P = 0.017) and devices for outputs (P = 0.004). PCT's (94%) handwrite data prior to electronic entry. One-third of nurses reported direct electronic entry (P < 0.001). Overall, 71% would prefer to chart in patient's rooms. Most (80%) of respondents received <5 h of fluids-related training at the time they were hired. Cronbach's alpha for three focus group reviewers was 0.84 (95% CI 0.693-0.923). Themes included understaffing, lack of training, a high percentage of traveling nurses, and poor communication regarding new orders. Recommended solutions to improve I/Os included in-room kiosks for electronic entry and relief of staffing burdens. Conclusions: Fluid I/O measurement accuracy and efficiency may be improved by increased staffing, educational programs, and computer access, streamlining of order sets, simplicity of EMR data entry, and a standardized process for measuring, recording, and charting I/Os.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-103
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Surgical Research
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • Fluid intake
  • Fluid output
  • Fluids management
  • Reliability of fluid measurements

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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