Your organisation will have protocols for a wide range of activities. These can range from clinical issues like caring for someone who has an infection through to the procedures to follow to file a complaint.

Basically, a protocol is a document that’s developed to guide decision-making around specific issues, whether it be how to diagnose, treat and care for someone with a specific condition, what procedures to follow to halt the spread of infection, or how to report that a specific event has taken place.

The protocol sets out in a step-by-step way what actions should be taken, explaining the reason and justification for each action as it goes. It’s like a ‘guidebook’ for health care staff, helping them to make sure they’re taking the right action to get the best outcomes and avoid any possible problems.

Gaining competency

As well as protocols you might also see documents called guidelines, or procedure manuals, or even something relatively exotic like ‘patient specific directions’. There are differences between each, but essentially they do the same job – they inform you about what should be done, by whom, when, and how.

Your role is to be aware of the protocols that guide the practice of your team and follow them. This is a very important point. Protocols are developed with a great deal of attention to making sure they’re accurate, reliable and cover the patient’s/client’s best interests. Ignoring or only half-using a protocol when carrying out a specific activity is bad practice that can put the patient/client at risk.

No one will expect you to know the different protocols word for word, but you will be expected to know how you can find them and to consult them before you carry out activities related to them.

So the thing with protocols is – know them, read them, use them.

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