Implementation and Analysis of a Free Water Protocol in Acute Trauma and Stroke Patients




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American Association of Critical Care Nurses


Background Free water protocols allow patients who aspirate thin liquids and meet eligibility criteria to have access to water or ice according to specific guidelines. Limited research is available concerning free water protocols in acute care settings. Objectives To compare rates of positive clinical outcomes and negative clinical indicators of a free water protocol in the acute care setting and to continue monitoring participants discharged into the hospital system's rehabilitation setting. Positive clinical outcomes were diet upgrade, fewer days to diet upgrade, and fewer days in the study. Negative clinical indicators were pneumonia, intubation, and diet downgrade. Methods A multidisciplinary team developed and implemented a free water protocol. All eligible stroke and trauma patients (n = 104) treated over a 3-year period were randomly assigned to an experimental group with access to water and ice or a control group without such access. Trained study staff recorded data on positive outcomes and negative indicators; statistical analyses were conducted with blinding. Results No significant group differences in positive outcomes were found (all P values were > .40). Negative clinical indicators were too infrequent to allow for statistical comparison of the 2 groups. Statistical analyses could not be conducted on the small number (n = 15) of patients followed into rehabilitation, but no negative clinical indicators occurred in these patients. Conclusions Larger-scale studies are needed to reach decisive conclusions on the positive outcomes and negative indicators of a free water protocol in the acute care setting. ©2019 American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.


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Medical protocols, Free water, Aspiration and aspirators, Liquids, Thin, Intensive care nursing


©2019 American Association of Critical-Care Nurses