Aim: This systematic review aimed to determine the best available evidence regarding the effectiveness of nursing interventions in minimising the complications associated with administering medication via enteral tubes in adults.
Background: Giving enteral medication is a fairly common nursing intervention entailing several skills: verifying tube position, preparing medication, flushing the tube and assessing for potential complications. If not carried out effectively harmful consequences may result leading to increased morbidity and even mortality. Until now, what was considered to be best practice in this area was unknown.
Design: Systematic review.
Methods: CINAHL, MEDLINE, The Cochrane Library, Current Contents/All Editions, EMBASE, Australasian Medical Index and PsychINFO databases were searched up to September 2005. Reference lists of included studies were appraised. Two reviewers independently assessed study eligibility for inclusion. There were no comparable randomised-controlled trials; data were presented in a narrative summary.
Results: Identified evidence included using 30 ml of water for irrigation when giving medication or flushing small-diameter nasoenteral tubes may reduce tube occlusion. Using liquid medication should be considered as there may be less tube occlusions than with solid forms in nasoenteral tubes and silicone percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy tubes. In addition, nurses may need to consider the sorbitol content of some liquid medications, for example elixirs, as diarrhoea has been attributed to the sorbitol content of the elixir, not the drug itself.
Conclusion: The evidence was limited. There was a lack of high-quality research on many important issues relating to giving enteral medication.
Relevance to clinical practice: Nurses have the primary responsibility for giving medication through enteral tubes and need knowledge of the best available evidence. Some of the nursing considerations and interventions relating to this skill have been researched in the clinical area and have implications for practice. There is a need for further studies to strengthen these findings.