In a nursing forum, a nurse once wrote “I made the worst medication error today and feel so horrible about it. I literally wanted to quit the job from sadness and embarrassment. I'm a new nurse and have only been working at the hospital for about five months. I've been a nurse for about 10 months”.

Committing serious medication errors makes nurses feel devastated and frightened. Here, we look at the things that nurses need to know if they have committed a serious medication error.

Nurses are the most exposed to making medication errors

As nurses make up the largest proportion of care providers, they are most likely to make medication errors. They are potentially responsible for committing medication errors as high as 50 – 80% prior to reaching the patient.

Nurses who work in hospital settings are more vulnerable to medication errors as the medication is usually administered by one nurse. Hence, delivering multiple kinds of medication with various patients’ illnesses may result in serious medications errors.

In Malaysia, even though cases of medication errors are not well documented, a research conducted among 14 clinics identified 40% of errors that were potentially harmful, and 93.5% of them being preventable. Between 2014 and 2015, there were 3,526 medication errors reported by the Health Ministry. They were also found to be the single most preventable cause of harm to patients.

Therefore, it was not surprising when medication errors appeared at the top of the list, when we talk about issues within the healthcare industry. It is also a significant patient safety concern in a global context. In tandem with this issue, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has launched a Global Patient Safety Challenge on Medication Safety in March 2017 – with the objective to reduce medication errors by 50% over the next five years.

Undergo the psychological trauma with self-care practices

Nurses who commit serious medication errors may face psychological trauma. They might be in fear of returning to their clinical site, because the confidence level is clearly shaken – and they worry if they might make another mistake. If left unattended, the symptoms may worsen to become post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), where they will frequently experience symptoms of sleep disturbance, flashbacks and severely bruised self-esteem and self-image.

Prioritising patients in all circumstances

Nurses must put their patients at the first place and take ownership of their errors. The physician in charge must be informed immediately, so that corrective measures or possible actions can be taken accordingly to counteract the side effects of incorrect medication.

What comes next will depend on the hospital’s protocol. Often, it involves informing the nursing supervisor and writing up an incident report.

Finally, nurses need to know that everybody makes mistakes. Admitting to your mistakes and reporting the errors display integrity; hence, resulting in the possibility that there will be no further consequences for their actions.

There could be further investigations that involve interviews and disciplinary hearings, where the nurse needs to clarify the possible factors contributing to the error. Rather than feeling discouraged, she should see it as an important lesson to remember in the future – and make sure to avoid such incident from occurring. MIMS

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Medication errors: Here’s how a pharmacist can help
Two patient deaths as a result of pharmacists’ errors
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