Have you given the wrong dose of medicine? Or given the wrong drug to the right patient? Done the right procedure on a wrong patient? Or carried out a procedure in the wrong way? You can come up with many more examples. Most of the times this occurrences end with non-adverse effects to the patients. In some instances they lead to fatal effects even death. All these are referred to as medical errors in the medical field. A medical error is a preventable adverse effect of care, whether or not it is evident or harmful to the patient.
According to BioMed Central (2018), only 12% of medical errors were reported in 2017 across the USA. 17% of them led to adverse reactions to the patients. This is a great number and if not checked can lead to even greater risks. Why do health workers not report medical errors? The most obvious reason is you may face punitive aftereffects from loss of job to de-registration. So when in the course of your practice you realize you have done a medical error, most people will not be willing to report it. Mostly if there is no harm to the patient, people overlook it. Do you think that is right?
Communication breakdown among healthcare workers is a cause of medical errors. When communication is not clear it can lead to wrong interpretation. If policies, processes and procedures are not followed for instance poor documentation, can lead to medical errors. Patient related issues example not obtaining consent during a procedure can be a cause. It is likely for a newly trained nurse to have a medical error as opposed a more experienced one. This doesn’t mean an experienced nurse will not have a medical error. The rest are technological difficulties and inadequate policies. This list does not exhaustively address the causes of medical errors.
Medical errors should be reported whether they cause harm to the patient or not. The essence of reporting an error, is to ensure patient’s safety and it offers a learning opportunity. Man is to error, however some errors may be fatal. Policy developers should make the identification of errors to be a learning opportunity not punitive. The managers and staff should work as a team so that we reduce the occurrence of the medical errors. The systems as they are, are punitive for you to come out voluntarily to report a medical error. These incidences should be handled on a case by case approach. Some may lead to punitive actions, depending on the effects, repetitive nature and nurse’s professionalism. The case should be looked at wholesomely.
Awareness of medical errors should begin from the training institutions. Nursing students should be taught to appreciate that medical errors are there. The focus should shift to the integrity of the nurse student and eventually the nurse. Hospitals should come up with committees to handle medical errors. The handling should be done professionally so that it is both beneficial to the nurse and to the patient. Mentorship programs and corrective action should be developed to help the nurses involved in medical errors. In these programs goals should be set up by both the nurse and mentor and timelines agreed upon.
Responsibility to the profession and to the patient whose care is in your hands is important. Beneficence which is ‘to do good’, should be your guide. You should ask yourself, if the patient was your relative, would you have kept quiet with the medical error? Always note that the patient is someone’s relative. Start today by doing all your best within policies, procedures and processes to prevent medical errors. If they occur, report them, ensure patient’s safety and learn. Reporting medical errors doesn’t make you a bad nurse but a responsible nurse.