Restraint practice in the somatic acute care hospital: A participant observation study

Silvia Thomann*, Sandra Zwakhalen, Sandra Siegrist-Dreier, Sabine Hahn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


AIMS AND OBJECTIVES: We aimed to describe daily restraint practices and the factors which influence their use, from an outsider's perspective.

BACKGROUND: A reduction in restraint use is recommended in health care. However, somatic acute care hospital settings currently lack effective reduction strategies. Thus far, hospital restraint practice is described in terms of quantitative assessments and the 'insider' view of healthcare professionals. However, as factors such as routine or personal beliefs seem to play a relevant role in restraint use, these approaches might be incomplete and biased.

DESIGN: A qualitative observation study design was employed.

METHODS: Fieldwork with unstructured participant observation was conducted at a department of geriatrics and a department of intensive care in Switzerland between November 2019 and January 2020. Data were recorded as field notes. The analysis was conducted iteratively in two coding cycles using descriptive coding followed by pattern coding. We adhered to the Standards for Reporting Qualitative Research (SRQR).

RESULTS: A total of 67 hours of observation were conducted. We found that daily restraint practice can be described in three categories: the context in which restraints are used, the decision-making process on the use and continued use of restraints, and the avoidance of restraint use. Most processes and decisions seem to take place unconsciously, and their standardisation is weak.

CONCLUSIONS: The lack of standardisation favours intuitive and unreflective action, which is prompted by what is also known as heuristic decision-making. To transform daily restraint practice, a technical solution that leads restraint management in line with ethical and legal requirements might be useful.

RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE: The outsider perspective has allowed daily restraint practice to be described independently of existing routines, departmental cultures and personal attitudes. This is important to comprehensively describe restrictive practices, which is a prerequisite for the development of effective restraint reduction strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2603-2615
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Clinical Nursing
Issue number11-12
Early online date21 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023


  • decision-making
  • evidence-based practice
  • hospitals
  • qualitative research
  • restraint

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