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Nurse Multi-Tasking Can Lead to Medication Errors

Clearly nurses are vital to patient recovery, safety and satisfaction. They are on the front lines every day, providing care to countless patients during long and hectic shifts. The great majority of nurses and nursing aides tackle this daunting task with compassion and positivity. Unfortunately, a recent study released by the Australia-based Health Informatics Research and Evaluation Unit confirms an oft-expressed fear of patient safety advocates around the globe: when nurses are interrupted while performing their duties, the risks for serious medication-related errors dramatically increase.

Nurses are only human, after all: they have the same difficulties we all do when faced with a number of tasks that need to be performed simultaneously. When their attention is being diverted in several different directions, mistakes happen, and the overall quality of care given to each individual patient can suffer as a result. An important difference between the everyday multi-tasker and a caregiver, though, is that nurses can literally hold lives in their hands – even seemingly minor errors could be deadly.

Results Indicate That Quality Dips as Interruptions Rise

After observing nearly 100 nurses administer thousands of medications, some important and alarming trends were revealed by the study. Over half of the time nurses were distracted from the task at hand. Interruptions ranged from the serious (like monitor alarms going off) to the less urgent (inquiries by fellow staff members, searching for misplaced supplies and responding to phone calls).

Regardless of the cause, however, these interruptions resulted in a 74 percent rate of at least one “procedural failure” where the nurse’s actions deviated from established facility protocols involving such things as reading medicine labels or confirming patient identity before administering the treatment. Furthermore, researchers observed a 25 percent rate of potentially injury-causing “clinical errors” like giving a patient the wrong drug, an incorrect dosage or an improper formulation of a prescribed medication.

An unexpected finding was that the great majority of nurses did nothing to prevent interruptions, instead just accepting them as a consequence of the job. This study and similar ones clearly show, however, that patient care will greatly improve when nurses, hospitals, care facilities and physicians accept that a steady stream of interruptions has a detrimental effect on the quality of care offered and implement procedures designed to address the matter.

If you or a loved one has been injured as the result of a medication error or other malpractice by a caregiver, you should seek the advice of an experienced personal injury attorney in your area to learn more about your rights and options.