Help with Care Plans

Are you scratching your head or are you maybe even ready to tear your hair out over how to come up with care plans? Here are some words of wisdom from our own beloved Daytonite. Nursing Students General Students Knowledge


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Help with Care Plans

Don't focus your efforts on the nursing diagnoses when you should be focusing on the assessment and the patients abnormal data that you collected. These will become their symptoms, or what NANDA calls defining characteristics.

How does a doctor diagnose?

He/she does (hopefully) a thorough medical history and physical examination first. Surprise! We do that too! It's part of step #1 of the nursing process. Only then, does he use "medical decision making" to ferret out the symptoms the patient is having and determine which medical diagnosis applies in that particular case. Each medical diagnosis has a defined list of symptoms that the patient's illness must match. Another surprise! We do that too! We call it "critical thinking and it's part of step #2 of the nursing process. The NANDA taxonomy lists the symptoms that go with each nursing diagnosis.

Steps of the Nursing Process:

  • Assessment (collect data from medical record, do a physical assessment of the patient, assess adl's, look up information about your patient's medical diseases/conditions to learn about the signs and symptoms and pathophysiology)
  • Determination of the patient's problem(s)/nursing diagnosis (make a list of the abnormal assessment data, match your abnormal assessment data to likely nursing diagnoses, decide on the nursing diagnoses to use)
  • Planning (write measurable goals/outcomes and nursing interventions)
  • Implementation (initiate the care plan)
  • Evaluation (determine if goals/outcomes have been met)

Why we should use care plans?

Now, listen up, because what I am telling you next is very important information and is probably going to change your whole attitude about care plans and the nursing process. A care plan is nothing more than the written documentation of the nursing process you use to solve one or more of a patient's nursing problems. The nursing process itself is a problem solving method that was extrapolated from the scientific method used by the various science disciplines in proving or disproving theories. One of the main goals every nursing school wants its rns to learn by graduation is how to use the nursing process to solve patient problems. Why? Because as a working RN, you will be using that method many times a day at work to resolve all kinds of issues and minor riddles that will present themselves. That is what you are going to be paid to do. Most of the time you will do this critical thinking process in your head. For a care plan you have to commit your thinking process to paper. And in case you and any others reading this are wondering why in the blazes you are being forced to learn how to do these care plans, here's one very good and real world reason: because there is a federal law that mandates that every hospital that accepts medicare and medicaid payments for patients must include a written nursing care plan in every inpatient's chart whether the patient is a medicare/medicaid patient or not. If they don't, huge fines are assessed against the facility.

You, I and just about everyone we know have been using a form of the scientific process, or nursing process, to solve problems that come up in our daily lives since we were little kids.

Simple Example

Steps One - Five

  1. You are driving along and suddenly you hear a bang, you start having trouble controlling your car's direction and it's hard to keep your hands on the steering wheel. You pull over to the side of the road. "what's wrong?" you're thinking. You look over the dashboard and none of the warning lights are blinking. You decide to get out of the car and take a look at the outside of the vehicle. You start walking around it. Then, you see it. A huge nail is sticking out of one of the rear tires and the tire is noticeably deflated. What you have just done is step #1 of the nursing process--performed an assessment.
  2. You determine that you have a flat tire. You have just done step #2 of the nursing process--made a diagnosis.
  3. The little squirrel starts running like crazy in the wheel up in your brain. "What do I do?," you are thinking. You could call AAA. No, you can save the money and do it yourself. You can replace the tire by changing out the flat one with the spare in the trunk. Good thing you took that class in how to do simple maintenance and repairs on a car! You have just done step #3 of the nursing process--planning (developed a goal and intervention).
  4. You get the jack and spare tire out of the trunk, roll up your sleeves and get to work. You have just done step #4 of the nursing process--implementation of the plan.
  5. After the new tire is installed you put the flat one in the trunk along with the jack, dust yourself off, take a long drink of that bottle of water you had with you and prepare to drive off. You begin slowly to test the feel as you drive. Good. Everything seems fine. The spare tire seems to be OK and off you go and on your way. You have just done step #5 of the nursing process--evaluation (determined if your goal was met).

Can you relate to that? That's about as simple as I can reduce the nursing process to. But, you have the follow those 5 steps in that sequence or you will get lost in the woods and lose your focus of what you are trying to accomplish.

Care Plan Reality

The foundation of any care plan is the signs, symptoms or responses that patient is having to what is happening to them. What is happening to them could be a medical disease, a physical condition, a failure to be able to perform adls (activities of daily living), or a failure to be able to interact appropriately or successfully within their environment. Therefore, one of your primary aims as a problem solver is to collect as much data as you can get your hands on. The more the better. You have to be a detective and always be on the alert and lookout for clues. At all times. And that is within the spirit of step #1 of this whole nursing process.

Assessment is an important skill. It will take you a long time to become proficient in assessing patients. Assessment not only includes doing the traditional head-to-toe exam, but also listening to what patients have to say and questioning them. History can reveal import clues. It takes time and experience to know what questions to ask to elicit good answers. Part of this assessment process is knowing the pathophysiology of the medical disease or condition that the patient has. But, there will be times that this won't be known. Just keep in mind that you have to be like a nurse detective always snooping around and looking for those clues.

A nursing diagnosis standing by itself means nothing

The meat of this care plan of yours will lie in the abnormal data (symptoms) that you collected during your assessment of this patient. In order for you to pick any nursing diagnoses for a patient you need to know what the patient's symptoms are.

What I would suggest you do is to work the nursing process from step #1. Take a look at the information you collected on the patient during your physical assessment and review of their medical record. Start making a list of abnormal data which will now become a list of their symptoms. Don't forget to include an assessment of their ability to perform ADLs (because that's what we nurses shine at). The ADLs are bathing, dressing, transferring from bed or chair, walking, eating, toilet use, and grooming. And, one more thing you should do is to look up information about symptoms that stand out to you. What is the physiology and what are the signs and symptoms (manifestations) you are likely to see in the patient. Did you miss any of the signs and symptoms in the patient? If so, now is the time to add them to your list. This is all part of preparing to move onto step #2 of the process which is determining your patient's problem and choosing nursing diagnoses. But, you have to have those signs, symptoms and patient responses to back it all up.

Care Plan Reality

What you are calling a nursing diagnosis (ex: activity intolerance) is actually a shorthand label for the patient problem. The patient problem is more accurately described in the definition of this nursing diagnosis (every NANDA nursing diagnosis has a definition).

  • Activity Intolerance: (page 3, nanda-I nursing diagnoses: definitions & classification 2007-2008)
  • Definition: insufficient physiological or psychological energy to endure or complete required or desired daily activities
  • (does this sound like your patient's problem?)
  • Defining Characteristics (symptoms): abnormal blood pressure response to activity, abnormal heart rate to activity, electrocardiographic changes reflecting arrhythmias, electrocardiographic changes reflecting ischemia, exertional discomfort, exertional dyspnea, verbal report of fatigue, verbal report of weakness
  • Related Factors (etiology): bed rest, generalized weakness, imbalance between oxygen supply and demand, immobility, sedentary lifestyle.

I've just listed above all the NANDA information on the diagnosis of activity intolerance from the taxonomy. Only you know this patient and can assess whether this diagnosis fits with your patient's problem since you posted no other information.

In order to choose nursing diagnoses, you also need to have some sort of nursing diagnosis reference. There is some free information on the internet but it is limited to about 75 of the most commonly used nursing diagnoses.

One more thing...

Care Plan Reality

Nursing diagnoses, nursing interventions and goals are all based upon the patient's symptoms, or defining characteristics. They are all linked together with each other to form a nice related circle of cause and effect.

You really shouldn't focus too much time on the nursing diagnoses. Most of your focus should really be on gathering together the symptoms the patient has because the entire care plan is based upon them. The nursing diagnosis is only one small part of the care plan and to focus so much time and energy on it takes away from the remainder of the work that needs to be done on the care plan.

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Specializes in surgical tech.

Thank you so much for your insight. I'm a nursing student and will begin in the fall/08. I just joined and must say that I have gotten a great deal of useful info. Plan care tips ... math sites ... and good old fashion warnings!! As I understand it, the nursing field is not want it use to be, however the possibilities are still endless...

Thank you to all!

I've been told that a "risk for" diagnosis should never be your #1 priority diagnosis. What about a patient who is bleeding (miscarriage?) Is it then acceptable to use risk for fluid volume deficit r/t bleeding due to miscarriage?

Specializes in med/surg, telemetry, IV therapy, mgmt.
imac said:
I've been told that a "risk for" diagnosis should never be your #1 priority diagnosis. What about a patient who is bleeding (miscarriage?) Is it then acceptable to use risk for fluid volume deficit r/t bleeding due to miscarriage?

Yes, but not as the #1 priority diagnosis. The blood loss isn't usually great enough to cause physiological problems. Look up the progressive symptoms of exsanguination and hypoxemia. Look up the usual blood loss with miscarriage. You're talking about the death of a baby here vs. the loss of a couple hundred cc's of blood. The mother's response to the baby's death trumps the blood loss unless she needs blood transfusions, in which case it's an actual fluid volume deficit.


Thank you so much for your explanation. I'm still trying to develope that critical thinking brain--you are awesome--this helps me put things in perspective!

Specializes in med/surg, telemetry, IV therapy, mgmt.

About using "risk for" diagnoses. . .

  1. They do not have related factors. instead they have risk factors. risk factors are environmental [conditions] and physiological, psychological, genetic, or chemical elements that increase the vulnerability of an individual, family, or community to an unhealthful event (page 333, nanda-i nursing diagnoses: definitions & classification 2007-2008).
  2. You use a "risk for" diagnosis when you "think" a specific problem "might happen" to the patient
  3. Since these are potential, or anticipated, problems there are no defining characteristics (signs and symptoms) to use as evidence to support the diagnosis as there are with actual problems. so your nursing diagnostic statement has only two parts:
    • the nursing diagnosis label
    • the risk factor(s)
  4. You have to have a very clear and defined idea of the problem you are attempting to prevent, know it's signs and symptoms and preventative measures.
  5. Interventions for these nursing diagnoses are limited to:
    • Strategies to prevent the problem from happening in the first place
    • Monitoring for the specific signs and symptoms of this problem
    • Reporting any symptoms that do occur to the doctor or other concerned professional
    • If symptoms occur, you have an actual problem on your hands and you need to re-evaluate the care plan and change the nursing diagnosis
  6. As a general rule, these types of nursing diagnoses do not have the same priority as actual nursing problems. actual problems are usually attended to first.
Specializes in Acute Mental Health.

I'm in 3rd semester nursing clinical and everything has been flowing well. We have a total of 5 care plans to do, no problem. I've done 3 and now our instructor has informed us that for the next 2 she wants collaborative care plans done. HUH!! With no etiology and more medical, I'm lost. She gave us the example of a pt not able to get out of bed our diagnosis would be P.C. (potential complication): pulmonary embolism.

I'm so used to using r/t and not focusing on the medical problem per se but what nursing can do for this pt. None of my care plan books have collaborative dx and I have to say I'm in a pickle. Is there anyone out there that can pass on pearls of wisdom? Thanks to all.

Are you having a hard time coming up with a priority collaborative problem itself, or with listing the interventions or both?

Specializes in med/surg, telemetry, IV therapy, mgmt.
chevyv said:

Our instructor has informed us that for the next 2 [care plans] she wants collaborative care plans done. Huh!! With no etiology and more medical, i'm lost. She gave us the example of a pt not able to get out of bed our diagnosis would be p.c. (potential complication): pulmonary embolism.

I'm so used to using r/t and not focusing on the medical problem per se but what nursing can do for this pt. None of my care plan books have collaborative dx and I have to say I'm in a pickle. Is there anyone out there that can pass on pearls of wisdom? Thanks to all.

Are you sure you got the instructions right? Perhaps you need to see this instructor during her office hours to get a better explanation about this assignment from her.

There is no such thing as a "collaborative diagnosis" as far as i know. There are actual and potential diagnoses.

However, there are two kinds of nursing interventions: independent and collaborative nursing interventions.

  • Independent nursing interventions are those specific actions that a nurse can prescribe, or order, for a patient that do not require a physician order. these are things such as assisting patients with performing their adls, seeing to their safety and comfort and teaching.
  • Collaborative nursing interventions are those things nurses can only do for patients with an order of a physician or another healthcare provider--things like administer medications or provide certain treatments, etc. or, they are actions that require you to work with another professional of the health team who has to initiate the intervention(s). this includes such professionals as the doctor, dietician, physical therapist, respiratory therapist, pharmacist, speech therapist, lab tech, etc.

I would imagine that in your care plan, your nursing interventions will include what my instructors used to call management type nursing interventions where you make sure that contact and referral to the appropriate licensed healthcare professionals is made and that their plans of care are brought in and merged/followed with the nursing care plan. This is the case management function of the rn.

By extrapolation, a collaborative problem would be one that requires the skills of a team of healthcare professionals rather than only the independent skill of the registered nurse. The treatment of most medical diagnoses or complications of medical care will involve a host of healthcare disciplines. Some examples of collaborative problems would be:

  • infected wounds
  • seizures
  • gastric ulcers
  • stroke
  • emphysema
Specializes in CVICU, ER.

Okay, I don't really know where to post this so I will try here first... I am in L&D rotation right now. I have to do a careplan on a post op cesarean pt. I did one last week on acute pain, and risk for infection... So I would like to do something else for this one. She is a 25yowf, antepartum labs are HGB 4.25, HCT 33.3, PLTS 209... blood loss during surgery was >500mL. I was thinking risk for anemia/iron deficiency something along the lines of this. She has symptoms of PICA, requesting large amts of ice, and stating that she "eats it all the time"... There is nothing in her chart substanciating this, just a hunch. So, with the HCT being the only abnormal lab, can I do risk for anemia, or risk for hypovolemia? I have the 8th edition Nsg Dx handbook, but can find nothing along the lines of this in there. What would the correct NANDA dx be for this? I will probably do acute pain in addition to this, so which one would be highest priority? Any help would be much appreciated.... Thanks

Specializes in Acute Mental Health.

I was having problems coming up with the collaborative problem. Our instructor provided us with a list of collaborative problems, but nothing was fitting my data. What I ended up doing was using the collaborative DX only for what they applied to and using the risk evidenced by for others. I'll get it back Monday and have to go from there. It just didn't seem possible to have all collaborative DX, but I am new to the collaborative care planning, so I'll let you know. Thanks for taking an interest in my ques.