The nurse’s experience of decision-making processes in missed nursing care: A qualitative study

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Aims: To explore nurses’ perspectives regarding the decision-making processes that lead to missed nursing care and to identify the personal and contextual attributes involved in these processes. Design: A qualitative study was undertaken between April – October 2018. Methods: A total of 28 registered nurses working in different wards in hospital settings participated in nine focus groups with semi-structured interviews. An interview guide encouraged nurses to share perceptions of missed care and the personal and contextual attributes shaping their decision-making. Results: Content analysis revealed three themes related to nurses’ decision-making processes for whether to omit or delay care. First, nurses emphasized the role of nurses’ agency, suggesting explicit or implicit rationing of care, regardless of scarce resources. Second, nurses distinguished between two modes of thinking that they labelled “automated thinking,” activated in routine situations and “effortful thinking,” initiated in more novel situations. Finally, nurses identified situational factors triggering fluctuations in their awareness such as task type, difficult patients and the presence of relatives and the head nurse. Conclusions: Nurses are aware of the processes guiding a decision to omit or delay care. They pointed to patient, nurse and ward conditions that serve as cues in their decision whether to miss care. Identifying these cues supports Hammond's cognitive continuum theory of decision-making and may serve in the development of training programmes for nurses aimed at limiting the phenomenon. Impact: The study addressed missed nursing care through a decision-making lens. The findings pointed to nurses’ agency as shaping decisions about whether to miss care and identified the personal and contextual cues that guide nurses’ decisions. These findings call for organizational training programmes encouraging nurses to identify barriers and facilitators of missed nursing care and how to overcome them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2161-2170
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Advanced Nursing
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 John Wiley & Sons Ltd


  • care left undone
  • decision-making
  • focus groups
  • missed nursing care
  • nurses
  • rationing nursing care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Nursing


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