two healthcare professionals looking over a tablet while in hospital
Profiles and Features September 13, 2018

By Victoria Bey

How to Prevent the 3 Most Common Medical Errors in Nursing

In recent years, there has been an increased focus on medical errors in nursing. A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and published in The BMJ brought attention to a disparity in medical error reporting as a cause of death.

Results of the study indicate that as many as 250,000 patients in the United States die from medical errors, which would make it the third leading cause of death if compared to mortality statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Nurses working in the field need to remain informed and vigilant to prevent medical errors regardless of specialty.

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Medical Errors in Nursing are a Preventable Reality

The Institute of Medicine’s report To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System described the most common medical errors found within the healthcare system.

Included in this list were diagnostic, treatment, equipment, medication administration, and follow-up care errors. In the report, preventing medical errors is seen as crucial at the individual and organizational level.

The three most common medical errors in nursing involve medication, documentation and hospital-acquired infections.

4 Ways To Prevent Medical Errors In Nursing

1. Avoid medication-related medical errors in nursing

Affecting outcomes in inpatient and outpatient settings, medication errors can quickly lead to dangerous medical complications, interactions or death. Follow these tips to reduce medication errors:

  • Ensure understanding of the facility’s medication administration protocol, particularly if you’re on a short-term assignment
  • Prior to administration, check the dose against the original order to ensure it’s both prepared and dispensed correctly
  • Eliminate or mitigate distractions during medication administration
  • Keep a drug guide near you, such as an electronic version you can quickly reference on a mobile device

2. Prevent charting and documentation medical errors

Electronic medical record systems sometimes have safeguards built in to catch certain errors or question entries, but they can’t catch everything. 

Because every member of the treatment team relies on documentation for updated patient information, insufficient or missing documentation can negatively impact the patient. Keep these tips in mind when charting:

  • Adhere to the facility’s internal documentation standards and protocols
  • Document immediately instead of waiting for a break
  • Cross-reference patient information with medical records before charting
  • If possible, chart while you’re with the patient to ask questions or request clarification
  • Don’t copy and paste in the EHR system
  • Be specific, even if it takes more time
  • Only use commonly understood abbreviations; if in doubt, don’t abbreviate

3. Reduce hospital-acquired infection rates in treatment settings

The CDC estimates more than 700,000 hospital-acquired infections occur annually (CDC, 2011). As a nurse, you play an important role in the reduction of hospital-acquired infections as you travel from patient to patient during a shift. 

Take steps to reduce the transmission of hospital-acquired infections, such as:

  • Wear personal protective equipment when working in an area with patients
  • Sanitize before, during and after caring for a patient
  • Eliminate distractions to enhance your focus
  • Consistently assess the need for isolation
  • Adhere to recommended standards for device and equipment changes

4. Report medical errors immediately

Humans make mistakes, no matter how hard they try not to, and nurses are no different. Underreporting of medical errors in nursing is among the largest barriers to prevention research. 

If in doubt, report. Whether you realize a mistake was definitely made or think it’s possible, report the incident immediately to secure the best chance of mitigating negative outcomes.

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