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5 Ways for Nurses to Prevent Errors

Although medical errors were once thought to be quite rare, emerging research indicates they are becoming relatively frequent occurrences. According to a Johns Hopkins University study, medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States, surpassed only by heart disease and cancer. With patient consequences ranging from a reversible adverse reaction to death, nurses must remain cognizant and implement preventive measures to reduce the potential for error.   

Why Is Error Prevention Important?

The number of patients affected by errors is staggering. While medical errors are linked to 10 percent of all U.S. deaths, or approximately 250,000 patient deaths per year, an American Health & Drug Benefits study found that preventable medication errors impact an additional seven million patients annually.

Besides the vast number of patients impacted and the potential for catastrophic outcomes, the direct cost of managing the effects of medical errors is substantial. Medication errors alone account for an estimated $21 billion in additional medical expenses. Nurses who take steps to implement preventive strategies protect patients and decrease associated costs of care. Error prevention techniques also safeguard nurses and their employers from resulting lawsuits. These techniques also help maintain the reputation and public perception of the facility.

How Can Nurses Prevent Medical Errors?

Since medical errors occur at virtually any point of healthcare delivery, it is critical that nurses are consistent in utilizing preventive methods. Many errors are related to adverse drug reactions, acquired infections, patient falls, and unclear verbal or written communications.

Below are five ways for nurses to prevent some of the most common errors:

1. Minimize distractions. Before dispensing medication, there are several things nurses must first verify. During this time, it is important to minimize distractions and focus solely on the task at hand. A medication scanning system is helpful for reviewing and verifying that the correct medication (with the correct route and dose) is dispensed to the appropriate patient. If there are any questions about a medication, nurses should seek input from the ordering physician, pharmacist or unit supervisor before proceeding.

2. Practice excellent hand hygiene. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 25 hospital patients acquires at least one healthcare-associated infection during their stay. With nurses having frequent contact with patients, strict adherence to a handwashing and hygiene protocol, such as cleaning hands upon entering and exiting a patient room, has the potential to decrease infection rates by up to 70 percent.

3. Renewed attention to documentation. With so many healthcare providers and nurses relying on information in the patient's chart, accurate documentation is imperative. In addition to proper charting protocols, nurses are also advised to follow any specific monitoring directives given by healthcare providers and thoroughly document those in the chart. Any abnormalities, changes in condition or adverse events should be detailed in the chart as well.

4. Prioritize fall prevention. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), as many as one million patients suffer a fall during their hospital stay, which places them at an increased risk for complications like fractures or internal bleeding. Fall prevention practices that are effective in avoiding such events include the use of nonslip socks and bedside alarms as simple first-line measures. Nurses should also strictly adhere to the patient's activity orders, perform regular rounding and assessments, and encourage patients to seek assistance before getting out of bed.

5. Focus on two-way communication. Communicating is truly integral to nursing, but in such a fast-paced environment where circumstances change at a moment's notice, a lack of communication can have potentially deadly consequences. This underscores the importance of maintaining communication with all staff as well as with patients, family members and caretakers. Aim to give clear instructions and reports to coworkers and patients, and also be willing to answer questions and provide further clarity when requested.

Prevent Adverse Events

Medical errors can have potentially disastrous consequences for all involved. Not only are patients negatively affected, but nurses and healthcare employers face possible legal ramifications along with loss of reputation and public confidence. Because nurses are on the front line of patient care, the consistent use of preventive measures has a significant impact, leading to fewer errors and adverse events. 

Learn more about the University of Texas Permian Basin RN to BSN online.


Nursing Made Incredibly Easy: How to Avoid the Top Seven Nursing Errors

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: HAI Data and Statistics

American Health & Drug Benefits: National Burden of Preventable Adverse Drug Events Associated with Inpatient Injectable Medications: Healthcare and Medical Professional Liability Costs

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: Preventing Falls in Hospitals

Johns Hopkins Medicine: Study Suggests Medical Errors Now Third Leading Cause of Death in the U.S.

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