National Survey of Feeding Tube Verification Practices: An Urgent Call for Auscultation Deimplementation

Dimens Crit Care Nurs. 2020 Nov/Dec;39(6):329-338. doi: 10.1097/DCC.0000000000000440.


Background: Harm events such as pneumothoraces and pneumonia continue to be associated with feeding tube insertion. Most bedside verification methods are not accurate to discriminate pulmonary from gastrointestinal system. Evidence-based clinical practice guidelines do not support auscultation of feeding tubes in adults, yet auscultation is the most common method used.

Objectives: Our survey assessed national feeding tube verification practices used by critical care nurses, including progress in auscultation method deimplementation, and stylet reinsertion and cleansing practices.

Methods: A national survey of 408 critical care nurses was performed.

Results: The majority performed auscultation (311 of 408 [76%]) to verify feeding tube placement. In the final multivariable model, nursing education, facility type, observation of colleagues performing auscultation, and awareness of an institutional policy were associated with auscultation of feeding tubes. Thirty-five percent used enteral access devices to verify initial feeding tube placement. Stylet cleansing methods were variable; 38% of reinserted stylets were not cleansed.

Discussion: Minimal progress has been made in deimplementation of auscultation in the past 7 years despite passive knowledge dissemination in research articles, clinical practice guidelines, and procedure manuals. Although pH measure is used as a first-line feeding tube verification method in the United Kingdom, it is rarely used in the United States. Clinical practice guidelines should be updated to incorporate new research on enteral access systems.

Conclusions: Tradition-based practices such as auscultation and certain stylet cleansing methods should be deimplemented. A focused interdisciplinary, multifaceted program is needed to deimplement auscultation practice for adult feeding tubes.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Auscultation
  • Critical Care
  • Enteral Nutrition*
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Humans
  • Intubation, Gastrointestinal*