The Benefits of Mnemonics in Nursing

The word “mnemonic” stems from the Greek words mneme (memory), mnemon (mindful), and Mnemosyne (the Greek goddess of memory). Mnemonics are tools that help us remember facts or large amounts of information. They help stimulate memory through songs, pictures, acronyms, rhymes, or other devices. Nurses use mnemonics to help remember the variety of complex medical knowledge they need to know to properly and sufficiently take care of their patients.

Nurses can use mnemonics to evaluate their patients. The acronym “SAMPLE” can be used to remember the different information they must gather from a patient: Symptoms: What brought the person in for treatment? Allergies: Does he/she have any bad reactions to food or medication? Medications: Do they take any prescriptions, over the counter drugs, or herbal supplements? Past medical history: What kind of health problems, illnesses, diseases, or surgeries has he/she experienced? Last oral intake: When did they last eat or drink? Events preceding injury: How did the person get hurt?

After taking a patient’s health history and making a medical evaluation, nurses must make a nursing care plan. The steps can be remembered with the mnemonic “ADPIE” (a delicious pie): assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation, and evaluation. Various diseases and ailments can be remembered with mnemonics, as well. For example, hypocalcemia symptoms can be recalled via the acronym “CATS:” convulsions, arrhythmias, tetany, and spasms and stridor. The treatment for a myocardial infarction (heart-attack) can be remembered with “MOAN:” morphine, oxygen, aspirin, and nitrates. Finally, the causes of a heart murmur can be recalled with “SPAMS:” stenosis of a valve, partial obstruction, aneurysms, mitral regurgitation, and septal defect.

In a recent study, Luanne Linnard-Palmer, professor of pediatric nursing, and Cathy Cyr, professor of nursing, both at Dominican University of California, School of Health and Natural Sciences, Department of Nursing, discovered that using mnemonics can have a significant effect on retaining information. Their research findings showed a high level of recall in both information and in-order tasks, as well as higher confidence and higher skills performance as compared to pre-mnemonic usage.

Since 2015, Boston Medical Center has been using a mnemonics program to decrease the number of errors that occur due to communication failures. In an article in Healthcare IT News, it was reported that a group of physicians and researchers developed the I-PASS tool to bring some standardization to the “hand-off” process of patient-to-caregiver transfers. I-PASS: Illness severity, patient summary, action list, situation awareness and contingency plans, and synthesis by receiver is meant to be a checklist that summarizes a patient’s care plan and uses “closed-loop communication” to ensure correct information is passed between clinicians. As a result of the program, “medical errors decreased by 23 percent, preventable adverse events decreased by 30 percent, and critical information was included more frequently in written and verbal handoffs.” Fifty hospitals nationwide now use the program.

The usage of mnemonics in nursing is a helpful way to remember the complex bounty of information necessary to perform day-to-day activities. Not only can mnemonics trigger a nurse to remember the causes of a disease, it can have a profound impact on the safety and success of a medical organization by making sure everyone operates under the same standards.