What You Need to Know About Medication Errors

GettyImages-1344059941-2Healthcare workers, especially Nurses, face more challenges today than ever. Nurses must quickly adapt to fluctuating Nurse-Patient ratios, evolving technology, and the evolutions of healthcare and how it affects the way we provide care to our patients. Medication errors are an unfortunate consequence of overwork, distraction, and system errors. The consequences of medication errors can range from minor to serious. Serious medication errors can even result in death.

Causes of Medication Errors

Medication errors can be the result of any failure to ensure that the correct medication is being administered. Clinicians, pharmacy staff, and Nurses all play a critical role in ensuring patients receive the proper medications. Clinicians must ensure that the correct medications, dosages, and routes are being ordered. Pharmacy staff must double-check the ordering clinician and then input the correct medication, dosage, and route are being entered into the electronic system. Then Nurses must check the information again before administering the medication. Even though errors can occur anywhere along this chain, Nurses carry the ultimate responsibility to check and double-check every medication they administer.

How You Can Prevent Medication Errors

No well-intentioned Nurse wants to make a medication error. Nurses are the front line of healthcare, and it is up to us to prevent errors from occurring whenever possible. Here are some things you can do to keep your patients safe and avoid medication errors.

Avoid Distractions: Avoiding distractions can sometimes be easier said than done. Nurses are constantly juggling the tasks and needs of several different patients at the same time. Distractions that can lead to medication errors can be caused by ringing phones, call lights, IV pump alarms, and interruptions by family members or coworkers.

Nurses tend to work in high-stress situations, which can lead to distraction. Whenever possible, you should avoid distractions while preparing or administering medications. Medications should be prepared in the patient’s room and double-checked to the electronic record to prevent errors from occurring.

Check the Five ‘Rights: The five rights to correct medication administration is a simple, but effective method to ensure that medications are being administered safely and correctly. Before administering any medication, make sure that you verify all five rights.

1. Right Patient
  • Check the name on the order and verify the correct patient using 2 identifiers. Ask the patient their name and date of birth and check that their wrist band displays the same information.
2. Right Medication
  • Check all medication labels and compare them to the original order to ensure they are the same medication. At this time, you could also check the medication’s expiration date and ask the patient if they have any medication allergies.
3. Right Dose
  • Check the ordered dose and compare it to the medication on hand. Confirm that the dose is appropriate for your patient.
4. Right Route
  • Medications can be administered in many different ways, including but not limited to orally, intravenously, topically, and intramuscularly. Nurses must always ensure that medications are being given via the correct route.
5. Right Time
  • Check the order and ensure the correct time for the medication. Check the frequency of the medication and the last dose the medication was given.

Double Check Medications with a Coworker: High-alert medications can have serious consequences if not administered correctly. High-alert medications are any medications with a heightened risk of causing significant harm if administered incorrectly. Medications like heparin are considered high-alert medications due to the increased risk of bleeding to patients who receive it. Nurses should double-check all high-alert medications and any medication that can look or sound like other medications with another Nurse to help reduce the risk of medication errors.

Document: Medication administration should always be documented. Bar code scanners on electronic medical records should always be used to ensure medications are not only documented, but have been given correctly.

Speak Out: As Nurses, our priority should always be patient safety. If you identify a potential for medication errors to occur, speak to your supervisor to make a change.

Patient safety should be the number one concern for all healthcare professionals. As Nurses, we play a vital role in preventing medication errors. It may not be possible to avoid every medication error, but as Nurses, we must prioritize safe medication administration to ensure our patients receive safe and effective patient care.

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