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What causes medication errors?

It is impossible to point to just one thing and say it's the reason behind all medication errors. The truth is that there are a variety of reasons why a medication error happens. In this post, we will look at some of the more common reasons: technology and nursing mistakes.

Technology introduces risk for medical errors

You know when you go to the doctor and they pull all the information up in your electronic chart? While you may be just assuming that everything in that chart is up-to-date, the truth is that there are situations where these systems are missing information. This means, the doctors and medical professionals you are seeing are making recommendations without seeing the full picture. 

Different electronic health record systems exist, but not all health care providers use the same ones or even have access to all of them. This fragmentation often results in a physician basing prescriptions on inaccurate information because patients see different health care providers -- increasing the chances of the necessary, accurate information never making it into the system.

What causes nursing errors?

The electronic health records system is also just one of the causes of medication errors. Nurses make mistakes too, for any number of reasons, including:  

  • Exhaustion and environment: Nurses often work long shifts in uncomfortably hot or cold environments, or even in improperly lit areas. These long hours in less than ideal situations increases the chances for a mistake. 
  • Memory problems: The fast working pace of nursing can lead to memory lapses about essential matters, such as a patient's allergies or maximum daily dosages for a drug.
  • Distractions: From many different people trying to talk to a nurse at once, to just not paying attention, distractions can lead to administering the wrong medication -- especially when different medicines have similar names.
  • Lacking patient information: A lack of patient information, such as allergies, other medications taken by the patient, lab results and previous diagnoses, can cause life-threatening errors.
  • Insufficient understanding or knowledge: Complete knowledge and understanding of both the generic and brand names of drugs, the way they work, and the potential side effects is essential, but some nurses may not know or understand everything they need to prevent an issue.
  • Control, storage and systemic problems: Issues such as different products with similar names stored in the same area and an ineffective system for scanning barcodes can increase the chance of an error.

While nurses and other medical professionals certainly do not purposefully want to make a mistake, intention or not does not matter when it comes to your health. Even if you really like your health care provider, it is important to still take action after a medication error, as this can not only help you -- but it can also help prevent future errors for other patients too. 

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