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Medication Errors: How to Avoid Them in Nursing

Medication Errors

Human error is a massive challenge in healthcare. While medical professionals do their best to avoid these errors, which can be injurious or fatal in some cases, these problems still arise because humans are fallible. Of the errors that occur in healthcare settings, medication errors are the most common. Nurses play an active role in the delivery and administration of medication so it is not surprising that many medical errors happen at their hands. To avoid medication errors, nurses need to understand how they happen and what to do to avoid them.

Verify Each Patient and Their Data

The medication prescribed as well as its dosage depends on individual patient data. The data used can include information about the patient’s characteristics (age, height, weight, etc.), their past, as well as their unique demographic classification. Errors occur when nurses misinterpret or do not have access to this data.

Identifying which patient a set of data belongs to, as well as verifying that a nurse has the right data goes a long way in helping prevent and eliminate medication errors. Identification and verification solutions such as the use of barcodes on patients and all medications have helped make this process easier and reduced instances of medication errors by up to 96% in some cases.

Make Thorough Drug Information Available

Comprehensive drug information should be made available to all nurses. This is because when this information is not available, some nurses, especially new nurses, end up guessing the right medication or dosage which puts patients in danger. 

All nurses should have access to complete, accurate and the most up-to-date information on all the drugs they might administer to a patient. That might be through online resources or through a drug guide in the form of a booklet in case the internet is not available.

Double Check with a Co-worker

While it might seem like additional work and a bother to call a co-worker every time you need to administer a drug, it can help reduce medication errors in case of high alert or partial doses. These are the medications where you need to do some calculations before administration. By double-checking with a co-worker, you ensure that someone is always available to catch any potential errors if there is a mistake in your calculations.

Avoid Conversations When Handing out or Administering Medication

When you work as a family nurse practitioner, you will find yourself working with families a lot. In your role, you will be required to talk to family members, some of whom might be in the room when you are treating a loved one. Because silence might feel awkward when administering medications, you might feel the need to chat with your patient’s family while you work. 

When you do, there is a high chance of getting distracted and this is when you are most likely to make mistakes. To avoid this, learn to not engage while administering medications and to be okay with the silence for the few minutes you are doing so to eliminate the risk of medication errors.

Enhance Nursing Skills

Another great way to minimise nursing medication errors is to enhance your nursing skills. Enrolling in an advanced degree program that incorporates advanced clinicals into your nursing practice, which online family nurse practitioner programs do, helps you gain advanced nursing skills that can help you eliminate medication errors. 

Also, enrolling in an advanced degree that helps you get into a leadership role places you in a great position to help influence medication delivery protocols and safety checks. In these leadership positions, you might not be reducing medication errors for yourself, but for other nurses around you.

Check the Five Rights

Information on directives, medication, dosages and more passes through a lot of people before it reaches a nurse, especially if they are receiving a new patient. Because of this long chain of communication, there is always the risk of a communication breakdown which can lead to dangerous consequences.

When receiving a new patient, nurses should check and confirm what are known as the five “rights”. These include verifying that a nurse has the right patient, as well as information on the right medication, right dosage, right time of administration and right administration route. Most medication errors occur when one of these “rights” is not verified against existing medical records. If there is any information missing, a nurse should try to find or confirm it using another source.

Double-Check the Pharmacy’s Order

Pharmacists make mistakes too. This can be sending the wrong medication due to similar-sounding medications or the wrong amount for the period prescribed. It is important that nurses double-check the packages they receive from the pharmacy to ensure they are getting the medications they ordered or the ones the doctor prescribed.

Eliminate Environmental Influences

Although rare, environmental influences like noise, light and a low nurse-to-patient ratio can all affect the administration of medication leading to medication errors. Nurses who find these environments to work in should advocate for changes through their nursing teams or team leaders.

Take Care of One Thing at a Time

This ties into the environmental influences discussed above as there are so many sources of distractions in a healthcare setting. These distractions can include phone calls, other nurses or other patients who need you. When nurses stop what they are doing to attend to something else, there is always the chance that something will go wrong. They may forget to log that they administered the medication or forget where they administered that drug. The best way to handle this is to ignore all distractions, handle one thing at a time, and let people know you will get back to them once you are done with what you are doing.

Nursing errors do happen despite nurses doing their best to ensure they do not. If you do make an error, take responsibility, do everything you can to correct and learn from it. Students and new nurses are most culpable of this, but when it happens, let the relevant people know about the error and move on. Also, ask yourself why the error happened in the first place so that you do not repeat the same mistakes in the future.

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