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12 tips for nurses for preventing medication errors in the UK

A person administering medication with the help of a pill organiser.

How to avoid medication errors: 12 effective tips for nurses

Nurses are an important member of the patient safety and care team, and they are responsible for preventing medication errors. A slight flaw in medication can put the life of a patient in danger. Also, such medication errors negatively affect the reputation of a healthcare facility and lead to high institutional and governmental costs. However, qualified nurses who are attentive and careful will be helpful in preventing medication errors, improving the quality of patient care and outcomes, and enhancing the reputation of the healthcare facilities in which they work. 

In this article, we will suggest some of the most effective tips for nurses to avoid medication errors and ways to promote patient safety. 

1. Create proper medication labels:

It is not safe to store drugs in a different container than the original package. If nurses have to move the medicines into a new container, they must ensure they properly label the new container, including the dosage, expiration date, generic and brand name of the dosage, and any other relevant details. The new medication label should be legible so that anyone can read it. It would be more convenient if nurses could peel off the label from the original container without damaging it and stick it to the new one. By preventing such errors, nurses and others will be able to administer medications more efficiently. 

2. Identify the right patient:

Identifying the right patient is the key to preventing medication errors. By verifying the patient's full name and date of birth, nurses ensure that they are administering and managing the correct medication. Never cease validating that the information provided matches the medication card, even if this process must be repeated multiple times during the shift. Most medication errors occur because nurses think they are familiar with patients medications and do not verify them. For patients who can't state their name due to some health condition, nurses can just check their name band, or in some cases, healthcare facilities in the UK use a barcode scanning system wherein the nurses can just scan the armband of a patient, thereby preventing medical errors. 

3. Ensure the right drug:

Most hospitals and healthcare facilities in the UK use electronic medical records, where doctors enter the EMR and nurses follow orders. When carrying out doctors' orders, nurses must ensure they are dealing with the right drug. However, it is not uncommon for errors to occur when a physician misspells a medication, uses an incorrect abbreviation, or if the handwriting is illegible on a handwritten order. If the patient is conscious and responsive, inquire if they have previously taken the medication or if they are aware that it has been prescribed. Additionally, compare the generic and brand names of the medication to ensure that you have the correct medication for the patient before administering it. 

4. Inquire about the allergy status of patients:

Some patients have allergies to particular drugs, and it is essential to understand that nurses could avoid such unnecessary drug reactions by asking the patient if they have known drug allergies before dispensing new medications. It is not uncommon for patients to forget about their drug allergies while taking a history, and healthcare workers and healthcare professionals may also fail to document allergies. Before starting a new medication, it is essential to confirm and consult patients about their drug allergies, rather than assuming that other healthcare professionals have already done so. 

5. Check with your drug handbook: 

Whenever nurses are unsure about the drug that needs to be administered, don't hesitate to double-check with your drug handbook. A drug handbook has plenty of information about different drugs, including their incompatibilities, adverse reactions, and precautions. Nurses should develop the habit of checking drug information before administering it to people, thereby preventing medical errors. Frequent reading facilitates the memorisation of relevant details on various types of medication, which is crucial for administering. 

6. Maintain clear communication:

Information on medication can be lost during communication between nurses, pharmacists, and doctors, so preventing such miscommunication when carrying out orders for new medications becomes necessary. Preventing such medical errors is essential; therefore, it is important to write down the instructions when receiving orders and repeat everything to confirm. Nurses should make sure that they legibly write the names of medicines and avoid improper abbreviations to prevent medication errors and ensure patient safety. 

7. Crush and cut up pills carefully:

Some tablets, typically hypoglycemic and antihypertensive medications, have extended-release coatings that require cautious crushing and cutting. Without the extended-release coating, these medications will have rapid, potent effects. Therefore, nurses must exercise extreme caution when crushing or cutting them up. If it is necessary to administer medication through a nasogastric tube, nurses should consult with a physician before crushing the medication. The extended-release pill should not be crushed. 

8. Never ignore or overlook patient medical histories:

It is common for patients to withhold information or for nurses to overlook or ignore a patient's previous medical history, but preventing such medication errors improves patient outcomes. By obtaining a thorough health history during the assessment and asking as-needed follow-up questions, nurses can aid in the prevention of such medication errors. Moreover, nurses should also carefully review medication orders and compare them to past medication regimens. If a new medication is similar to a previous medication that was ineffective or caused an adverse reaction in the patient, discuss this concern with the prescribing physician before administering the medication. 

9. Clarify newly prescribed medication if it doesn't seem right:

Preventing medical errors to the maximum extent is best for patients and healthcare facilities. Therefore, it is not wrong to double-check information about medicines from colleagues. It is even necessary to clarify with doctors and physicians if there is a reason to think that newly ordered medications might do more harm to people than the intended therapeutic effect. 

10. Educate patients about medication administration: 

Educate patients about medication administration, including explaining why the medication is necessary, the possible side effects or reactions, the expected outcomes, proper storage, and ways to administer the medications. The first step in preventing such medication errors in nursing is for the nurses to read and understand the physician's orders. While nurses and healthcare facilities may not be responsible for the patient's actions once they are discharged from care, pre-discharge instructions must be complete and well-documented. 

11. Ensure the right dosage of medication:

Nurses should not administer medication if they are unsure about the accuracy or appropriateness of an ordered dose until it is verified. It might be necessary to call the physician, pharmacy, or both to clarify, thereby preventing any possible confusion. If a nurse finds the order is not appropriate for the patient for any reason, do not administer the medication; instead, report the same to the supervisor and document the event. Preventing medication errors that arise out of confusion is likely to save the lives of patients, as incorrect dosage leads to fatalities. 

12. Take extra precautions with eye drops and ear drops:

Some patients need both eye and ear drops at the same time, which might create confusion for the nurses. Sticking a simple mark on each can help prevent confusion when using them interchangeably. By applying a simple coloured sticker on the side of the container, it can be easier to identify if it is an eye or ear drop and its generic name. It is also advisable that the label contain the patient's name in case a nurse has a lot of medications to administer to different patients. This is a simple technique for preventing medication errors and protecting people. 

These are a few of the preventative measures implemented against medication errors. In order to prevent medication errors, healthcare facilities across the UK should employ qualified personnel. Nurses Group is a leading nursing staffing agency that provides skilled nurses and healthcare workers to healthcare facilities. We conduct business throughout the UK, but particularly in Yeovil, Taunton, Salisbury, and Bournemouth.

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