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Medication errors: causes, effects, and benefits of prevention

A hand holding medicines implying the benefits of medication administration

What are the different causes and consequences of medication errors?

Working in the healthcare sector, nurses are the ones who normally administer medications to the patients. Thus, it becomes imperative that they understand the orders from the doctor so they can provide the patients with the treatment they need. It is quite possible that nurses can make medication errors while administering them. There are various common medication errors, including giving the wrong medicine or dosage to the patient or giving it at the wrong time or to the wrong patient. While it's possible that the errors might not impact the patient, there are times when patients can suffer serious side effects, reactions, or even fatalities. 

In this article, we will be discussing some of the common causes of medication errors, the benefits of preventing them, and what measures can be taken to reduce the impact in the event that such errors occur. 

What are the actions that cause the most common medication errors in nursing?

There are many actions that cause most of the medication errors in nursing. Here we will be discussing the six most common actions: 

1. Using abbreviations instead of the complete names of drugs:

There are many common abbreviations for medications. For example, acetaminophen (Tylenol) is abbreviated as APAP, whereas aspirin is abbreviated as A.S.A. Though it is acceptable to use abbreviations, it is not always the best option. When medicine abbreviations are used instead of the complete name, the occurrence of medication errors is higher. 

2. Failure to verify patient information:

A day in the life of a nurse can be hectic, especially for nurses in the UK, as the country is currently facing a shortage of healthcare staff. So, each nurse will be assigned many patients, making it difficult to manage. One action associated with medication errors in nursing is inaction or failure to verify important information. Situations where nurses fail to verify the right patients, verify medication allergies, and check for duplicate therapy can lead to medication errors and negatively impact patient safety and outcomes. 

3. Not acting on concerns about medication orders:

Some medication errors in nursing occur because nurses are afraid to ask questions about medication orders for fear of retaliation, despite their concerns that an order is inappropriate or medication is contraindicated. It is essential for nurses to keep in mind that patient safety and well-being are top priorities and to voice their concerns. 

4. Overlooking look-alike or sound-alike medications:

This is cited as one of the top causes of medication errors, as some medications look like others and may also sound like others, although they might be in different classes or have other uses. Medication errors can occur if nurses neglect to compare medication labels with orders or do not seek clarification. 

5. Failure to reconcile the medication administration record:

Medication reconciliation should be performed any time there is a transition in care or when changes in medication orders occur. Transitions in care include being transferred from one area of the hospital to another when healthcare providers or levels of care change. Due to the shortages of staff in the UK, nurses often work understaffed, and it is not uncommon for medication reconciliation to be overlooked. It is crucial that nurses recognise the significance of this step in patient care and exert every effort to ensure that it is carried out. 

6. Being distracted:

Depending on what is occurring in the nurse's immediate environment, it can be easy to become distracted while administering medication. Being distracted is inevitable, but nurses must learn to avoid such distractions to provide quality care. 

What are the six possible consequences of medication errors in nursing?

There are several possible consequences of medication errors in nursing, and depending on the severity of the error, the complexity might vary. Following are some of the possible consequences of medication errors: 

1. Hospitalisation:

Depending on the nature of the error and the side effects, one of the main consequences of medical errors is the need for patients to be hospitalised. The length of hospitalisation varies based on the seriousness of the error. 

2. Disciplinary action:

Even unintentional medical errors can result in disciplinary action against the nurse. Depending on the effect the error has on the patient and the cause of the error, disciplinary action may include disciplinary counseling, suspension, or loss of job. 

3. Unusual change in vital signs:

Medical errors may lead to rapid, sometimes dangerous, changes in the vital signs of the patient. If the patient's vital signs are not checked before administration, it can lead to severe consequences. 

4. Increased healthcare costs:

The increased length of hospital stays and legal cases related to nursing medication errors have a substantial impact on the cost of healthcare. 

5. Lawsuits: 

Medical errors in nursing not only result in healthcare costs but also potentially serious financial ramifications for nurses committing the errors. If a patient decides to pursue legal action, the nurses can be named solely or together with the facility where the medication errors occurred. If gross negligence or intentional harm is proven, nurses could also be imprisoned. 

6. Loss of licensure:

Although all medication errors might not lead to the loss of a nursing licence, it is possible. Based on the nature of the error and the harm the patient experienced, the decision to revoke a licence is made. 

What are the benefits of preventing medication errors in nursing?

Medication errors in nursing affect patients, nurses, and other members of the healthcare team, as well as care facilities and the nursing profession. Preventing nursing medical errors can benefit everyone.

Here are a few of the benefits of preventing medication errors

1. Increased patient safety:

Increased patient safety occurs when nurses follow and implement secure nursing practises, including measures to decrease medication errors. 

2. Strong nurse-patient relationship:

Individuals requiring medical and nursing care are often vulnerable. When patients feel their nurses have their best interests in mind and believe they are working to provide high-quality, error-free care, it establishes a strong nurse-patient relationship

3. Improved patient outcomes:

When nursing care services are error-free, with improved patient care, there will be positive patient outcomes, which will help build the reputation of the healthcare facility. 

4. Decreased error-related healthcare costs:

Medication errors in nursing contribute significantly to the high cost of healthcare. This also impacts insurance premiums and per-patient expenses for all types of medical services. By preventing nursing errors, nurses can help reduce healthcare costs or at least slow the rise in healthcare expenses. 

5. Better work environment:

Stress caused by errors in treatment, such as medication errors, leads to poor working conditions. As nurses work together to implement measures to improve patient care, such as reducing medical errors in nursing, it results in better work environments. 

Having skilled and qualified nurses in healthcare facilities is a boon, as they help reduce medication errors. If you are looking for skilled nursing staffing solutions, Nurses Group UK is the best healthcare agency. We help healthcare facilities meet their staffing needs with trained and skilled nurses and healthcare professionals. 

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