Licensed practical nurses, or LPNs, are front line caregivers. They work hand-in-hand with patients and families to aid the sick and promote good health. However, the role also has a critical clinical and administrative component that enhances clinical outcomes.
Clinical Responsibilities of an LPN
LPNs work in a wide range of settings, from hospitals and nursing facilities to assisted living centers and doctors’ offices. Their clinical responsibilities vary by locale, but typically include these tasks.
- Take vital signs
- Review clinical histories
- Verify drug and allergy lists
- Facilitate patient mobility
- Assist with therapeutic exercise
- Administer medications and treatments
- Dress wounds
- Remove skin sutures or staples
- Assist with minor surgical procedures
- Insert urinary catheters
- Manage patient safety
- Monitor diet, intake, and output
- Collect biological samples such as urine, blood, or sputum for lab testing
- Give vaccinations
- Facilitate self-care
Each clinical duty, however, also comes with a corresponding administrative task that is equally as important.
Administrative Duties of an LPN
An LPN’s administrative duties are more than just paperwork. They’re a vital part of providing quality health care and include nursing documentation, supervising paraprofessional staff, managing communication, handling referrals, and both compliance and safety monitoring.
Nursing Documentation Duties
There’s an old saying in the nursing field: “If it wasn’t documented, it wasn’t done.” Conscientious recordkeeping is an all-important tool for exchanging information and promoting communication, and it’s necessary to ensure continuity of care.
It should provide an accurate reflection of changes in patient condition and the type of care provided. Notes must be concise, accurate, complete, and timely.
Nurses from one shift should be able to look at records from prior shifts and get a clear understanding of a patient’s clinical status. By keeping members of the health care team on the same page, proper documentation prevents miscommunication errors and expedites care.
Documentation is also a legal record of services provided, and it can serve as evidence of proper care for insurers and regulators, as well as in legal proceedings. Today, most nursing documentation is done electronically and is virtually tamperproof. However, paper charts still remain, and they deserve as much attention.
Because documentation is such a critical part of nursing, LPNs need to estimate how much time it will take and manage their hours accordingly.
Supervising Paraprofessional Staff Duties
As licensed professionals, LPNs are responsible for supervising paraprofessional staff. In a hospital or nursing facility, they manage nurses’ assistants and help guide dietary and therapy aides when their functions intersect with nursing care. In outpatient settings like physicians’ offices, an LPN may supervise both administrative and medical assistants.
Day-to-day supervisory duties include managing staff assignments. An LPN may only delegate tasks to employees with the proper training.
Nurses are ultimately responsible for the performance of duties entrusted to paraprofessionals, so understanding the level of skill involved and verifying competency is a must. LPNs also function as mentors and guides, participating in skills checks and serving as clinical educators.
Because LPNs function as both immediate and mid-level supervisors, their input is also valuable as part of a new type of performance evaluation process called a feedback, or 360-degree review.
Unlike traditional year-end look backs, the 360-degree review process considers performance from all angles. It includes observations not only from an employee’s supervisors but also from clients, peers, professional teammates, and vendors. Anyone who regularly interacts with the employee can participate.
The idea is to paint a complete picture of a staff member’s achievements and identify areas for improvement. As part of the supervisory process, an LPN knows whom paraprofessional staff interacts with and can collect information and coordinate reviews.
Managing Communication Duties
LPNs are on the front lines of health care, so they communicate with patients, their families, and other team members on a daily basis. Whether the communication is by phone, email, or face-to-face, LPNs manage it all.
Answering the telephone, for example, is a common responsibility. Whether it’s on a busy hospital floor or in a private practice, an LPN has the know-how to triage medical emergencies and effectively communicate clinical details with both patients and providers.
In an acute care setting, LPNs field calls from family members, updating them on their loved one’s condition, as well as keeping doctors and other members of the health care team informed. An LPN in a doctor’s office may be responsible for making appointments and adjusting the schedule to fit in clients with concerning symptoms.
LPNs are also involved in meetings. As health care becomes more complex and involves professionals from multiple disciplines, the face-to-face communication once lacking in medicine now has renewed importance. Two of the most important gatherings LPNs participate in are utilization reviews and care planning meetings.
A utilization review is a meeting in which the health care team discusses patients’ progress and needs. Scheduled daily to weekly depending on the acuity of the patient population, gatherings are designed to keep each member of the team up to speed on how patients are doing and allow them time to collaborate on the plan of care mutually.
Patients and families are usually not included in utilization review meetings since private information about more than one client is discussed. Attendees may include:
- Primary care physicians
- Physical, occupational, and respiratory therapists
- Social workers
- Chaplains and spiritual counselors
- Case managers
A utilization review meeting ensures patients receive the best care professionals with different areas of expertise can offer while not duplicating services. As one of the health care providers closest to the patient, an LPN shares details about how well interventions go and makes recommendations as necessary for changes in the plan of care.
Family meetings are similarly scheduled. Once minimized, the role of families in patient care is also now recognized as a crucial part of recovery since they help provide ongoing physical, emotional, and financial support.
As liaisons between patients, families, and the many health care professionals who don’t see them daily, nurses have a lot to bring to the table. At family meetings, LPNs discuss how patients are responding to care, detailing the services provided, as well as expectations for improvement or decline. Family members then know how their loved ones are doing and what they can do to help.
They answer questions, provide education about timely health topics, and follow up by presenting family concerns to other members of the team while serving as advocates for what the patient wants. When everyone is involved, long-term outcomes improve.
Primary care physicians are a patient’s go-to source for most medical problems, but when a diagnosis is elusive, it prompts a referral to a specialist.
Today, up to half of cases are referred to specialty practices. LPNs help by making referrals as smooth as possible, clearing barriers on behalf of the patient and managing communication between providers. It can be a complicated process, starting with insurance preapproval.
Specialty care is costly, so most insurers want to know the reason for a referral before they agree to pay for it. An LPN’s job is to research the medical records for information supporting the request, fill out the required forms, and transmit them to the insurance company for approval.
The process is usually electronic. Once approved, patients can then see the specialist at the lowest possible out-of-pocket cost.
It’s also imperative specialists receive all pertinent information without documentation overload. Most are in demand, so they ask for a succinct summary of the referring doctor’s concerns, as well as pertinent history and diagnostic results to maximize their time. Missing information can result in a less effective visit or duplicate orders.
Once the referral is complete, nurses serve as a point of contact between physicians, answering questions and facilitating the flow of information. After the visit, they ensure the doctor sees the results, and they communicate changes in the plan of care to the patient accordingly.
Compliance and Safety Monitoring Duties
Health care is a highly regulated field, and everything from staff certifications to equipment maintenance is subject to rule making.
For example, in most states, nursing assistants are required to submit evidence of continuing education before they can renew their certificates. If they’re caught working without it, the hiring provider is penalized.
Similarly, medical settings have sensitive equipment that requires routine care or calibration. Research shows that some medical errors are associated with equipment malfunction, so regulators have instituted maintenance and quality control testing schedules for the most vital instruments.
In most medical facilities, for example, the glucometers used to check diabetic patients’ blood sugar must be tested for accuracy at least once daily, while supplies including test strips and insulin must be discarded and replaced according to best practice guidelines.
Considering how many pieces of equipment and supplies are used in a hospital or nursing facility, standardized compliance monitoring has become essential, and it’s a task that’s a perfect match for the skills of an LPN.
Compliance and safety monitoring responsibilities vary by setting. In a small doctor’s office, an LPN may participate in everything from monitoring the education compliance of staff and testing emergency equipment to maintaining quality control logs on lab gear.
In a hospital or nursing facility, LPNs safeguard the function of:
- Bedside blood testing equipment
- Oxygen delivery apparatus
- Refrigeration units where patient food or medications are stored
- Door locks and personal alarm systems
- Patient transport devices, including wheelchairs and gurneys
- Crash carts
They’re also responsible for documenting completed maintenance in logs as required by law, which records are subject to review at a moment’s notice, and for tagging faulty equipment for repair.
Licensed practical nurses are professional caregivers dedicated to the well-being of their patients, and spending so much time working with paper instead of people can be frustrating. However, while administrative responsibilities are time consuming, they’re an integral part of nursing practice that enhances, not detracts from, patient care.
Did learning about the clinical and administrative duties of a licensed practical nurse (LPN) interest you? Ready for an exciting new career in the health care field?
The Practical Nursing program provides the graduate with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to function as a licensed practical nurse, or LPN.
Part of the practical nurse training curriculum is devoted to theory and the rest to hands-on laboratory skills practice and off-site clinical externship rotations. These rotations include work at long-term care and rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, and childbearing and pediatric outpatient settings.
Upon successful completion of NCLEX-PN, the National Council Licensure Examination, which is a nationwide examination for the licensing of nurses in the United States, the licensed practical nurse (LPN) works under the direction of a registered nurse or licensed physician in a variety of health care settings.
Contact us today to find out more about how to become an LPN on Long Island.