3 Common Medical Errors in Nursing and How to Avoid Them

It’s fairly common knowledge that no one is perfect, so it’s a good idea to realize now that you won’t always perform your nurse duties perfectly. Even if you graduated at the top of your class and have received recognition for your devotion to healthcare, all while maintaining great nurse-patient relationships and getting along with all of your colleagues, you’ll certainly make a mistake at some point in your career. Unfortunately, mistakes in health care, even simple ones, can have lasting and complex consequences. Therefore, it’s crucial that you understand where they are most likely to happen and what to do about them. To help you stay on the right track, here are some of the most common medical errors in nursing and what you can do to avoid or fix them.

Medication Errors

This type of error is probably the most common error that you will come across – and possibly commit – as a nurse. This type of error is not usually caused due to a lack of knowledge or experience; every nurse is capable of making this type of mistake, regardless of how long she has been in the profession. The main cause of medication errors is simply not paying attention. This is why it is critical to have a keen focus on your work while you are actually working. Leave personal problems outside the hospital door, and when you are working with a specific patient, put all of your attention on their needs at the moment. To further help prevent medication errors, don’t forget the 5 Rights of Medication Administration:

  • Right Medication. Right off the bat, you need to make sure that you are following the doctor’s orders for which medication is needed for the situation. Double and triple check with the physician, the pharmacy, and the patient’s chart to make sure you’ve got it right.
  • Right Patient. One of the worst things that can happen is giving the medication to the wrong patient. Due to allergies or other medical complications, this could have deadly effects. To avoid giving the mediation to the wrong patient, check the chart and address the patient by name. They will correct you if you are wrong, saving you some big problems.
  • Right Dose. This is not the time to use your best judgment in dosage. Follow the physician’s order for the medication exactly with regard to dosage. When you are measuring it out, make sure it matches the written order. Double-check the patient’s chart.
  • Right Time. Nursing can be super hectic most days, so it can be hard to remember to give patients their medication at the right time. Make sure you know when they are to receive their dose and set alarms if you must to help you remember.
  • Right Route. Make sure you know how the medication is meant to be administered. Even with the same dosage and medication, patients can have bad reactions if the medicine is given orally instead of intravenously, for example. Ensure that you know how the physician has ordered it to be administered before you give it.

Following medication administration, you should always document it. It should be on the patient’s chart and you should also let incoming nurses know when and what was given last to the patient. Documenting everything will help protect you against accusations of mistake and will keep you accountable for your actions.

Documentation and Chart Errors

Speaking of documentation, this is another common error that is often committed in the hospitals on the part of the nurse on duty. Paperwork is not everyone’s forte and when most nurses start nursing school, they probably weren’t made aware of just how much paperwork they would be doing throughout their career, or just how important it is. Nonetheless, recording critical information is a major part of a nurse’s job. With shift changes and constant changes in physician’s orders, documentation is absolutely essential for making sure that the patient is safe and receiving treatment.

A patient’s chart is basically an in-progress map of their journey to recovery from whatever ill they are suffering from. Often, treatments are attempted that didn’t work. Recording these ensures that they won’t be tried again and will give a guide for where to go next. Often, chart errors are made due to carelessness or simple numerical or grammatical mistakes that can greatly change the meaning of the information in said chart.

To avoid these mistakes, make sure you are recording everything, even if it doesn’t seem entirely necessary. Here’s what to focus on:

  • Health history
  • Patient allergies
  • Medications (what, when, how, results)
  • Any discontinued medications
  • Changes in patient condition
  • Physicians orders or observations
  • Nursing actions
  • Scheduled tests/treatments

Overall, charting and documentation errors can be mostly prevented if you focus on being thorough and timely. Don’t leave chart work for the end of the shift; fill things out as they happen, otherwise you’re likely to forget something crucial that you should have included.

Infection Errors

While hospitals are places of healing and treatment, they are also, counterintuitively, places that see a lot of unnecessary infections for unrelated causes. With so many viruses and bacteria in a contained area, there are bound to be problems that arise. However, it is a nurse’s duty to help minimize the risk of infection in patients while treating them for their original issue. Infection errors are difficult to avoid; they are extremely prevalent and even cause around 100,000 deaths every year in American hospitals. That’s a very high number for something that can be largely prevented through careful attention.

To prevent infection issues with patients, hygiene is key. Make sure you understand the regulations and protocols for hygiene and cleanliness that your facility abides by and follow them to the letter. As you work with patients, especially those who are at particular risk for developing an infection, pay close attention to the standard precautions set forth by the health industry, be familiar with correct cleaning and disinfection of wounds and instruments, know a variety of strategies for preventing infection in patients, and be aware of aseptic techniques.

Again, take care to document your actions. If a patient does develop an infection, you’ll want to prove that it wasn’t through neglect, so keep those charts and other documents up to date and thorough.

Final Thoughts

The above is not a comprehensive list of everything that can go wrong in a hospital, but the items there are the most common medical errors committed by nurses. While it may be stressful to know of all the things that can go wrong, you should know that your attention to detail, thorough documentation, and an in-depth knowledge of nursing techniques and facility protocols will help you avoid making these mistakes. Every nurse will make a mistake during her career, but don’t give up. Do your best, keep learning, and you will improve as a nurse throughout your career.

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