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November 2011, Volume 41 Number 11 , p 21 - 24


  • Julie Byrd BSN, RN
  • Anessa Langford BSN, RN
  • Sherry J. Paden BSN, RN
  • Wanda Plackemeier BSN, RN
  • Caroline Seidelman BSN, RN
  • Mary Valla BSN, RN
  • Rebecca Wills BSN, RN


OBTAINING ACCURATE weights is an important factor in clinical decision making. For example, some medication dosages are weight-based; fluid volume deficits or overloads as well as nutritional issues can also be identified by changes in patient weight.Many healthcare professionals are concerned that patients' weights aren't completely reliable and that variations in weights could be caused by the scales used.1 In a hospital, patient weights may be obtained in several ways, such as with a built-in bed scale, a wheelchair scale, or a digital or mechanical standing scale. Nurses, healthcare providers, and other staff must be able to trust the accuracy of the patient weights obtained and confidently adjust parameters of care accordingly.The study presented in this article examined variations in patients' weights based on the type of scale used. The purpose was to investigate the accuracy of various scale types as a source of error in patient weight assessments. (See Glossary of research terms.)Several authors have stressed the importance of accurately measuring patient weights instead of estimating them because errors in estimation by ED nurses have been reported to be as high as 42.2%.2-5 Even when patients estimate their weights, error rates of approximately 4% have been reported.6-8 Guenter found one of the reasons nurses most often cited for not weighing patients was "scales broken and/or unreliable."1We performed a review of the literature using an online medical database focusing on studies that compared the reliability of different types of scales commonly used in hospitals. Searching the literature as far back as 1981, we found only two studies that specifically addressed the accuracy of scales used for adults. Because these studies haven't been repeated recently, they can be considered classic; many researchers still refer to them today.In a study of scales used for inpatient and outpatient care at the University of North Carolina, 20.6% of scales tested weren't

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