5 Tips for the Prevention of Medical Error at Work

tips for the prevention of medical errors

With so many moving parts inside the American healthcare system, what constitutes a medical error can take many forms. Medication errors are a subset of medical errors and are specific to the prescription, administration, and distribution of medications. 

A key characteristic of both medical and medication errors is that they are most often preventable—and that’s great news! It means it’s in your power to take concrete steps to avoid making potentially fatal mistakes at work.

Upwards of 400,000 hospitalized patients a year are found to fall victim to preventable medical errors resulting in an astounding $20 billion dollars of preventable spending annually. While the financial burden is impressive, the impact of preventable errors on patient outcomes is the primary concern.

Everyone working in the medical field should appreciate the significance of medical errors and prioritize standards in their daily work focused on medical error prevention. Read on for tips you can integrate into your work to support the prevention of medical error as much as possible.

Causes of Medical Errors

Determining the exact cause of a medical error is often challenging because it frequently comes down to multiple contributing factors. As described by the Patient Safety Network, using the swiss cheese model, medical errors are often the result of a series of smaller, seemingly trivial failures. This often makes reducing a medical error to a single cause difficult. 

Researchers break medical errors down into two basic types: errors of commission and errors of omission. An error of commission means that someone took the wrong action resulting in an unintended outcome. An example would be administering a medication to a patient with an allergy to that medication.

An error of omission means that the negative outcome was a result of actions that were not taken. An example of an error of omission would be not putting the appropriate safety measures in place, such as a bed alarm for a patient who is a fall risk.

While the previously mentioned statistics are frightening, there is the potential for this problem to be even greater due to underreporting. The failure to report an error on the part of the individual can be because of reasons like embarrassment or fear of being punished. This is why many medical institutions have made efforts to soften the impact of a too-punitive culture and identify errors as systematic opportunities to improve patient care.

Closely related to medical errors is the concept of negligence. If someone is found to be negligent, it means that compared to what is the standard of care, and how other qualified healthcare professionals would reasonably perform, the person in question fell short resulting in a negative outcome. 

5 Tips for the Reduction or Prevention of Medical Errors

The name of the game when it comes to reducing medical errors is prevention. An appreciation  for patient safety measures drives many institutions to have measures and standards in place to reduce the risk of errors. While there are many systemic efforts that can be put in place to standardize the care given, there are some things you can do as an individual to support the prevention of medical error.

1. Identify Patients Correctly

One of the first things you learn when entering any role inside the medical field is the absolute necessity to properly identify your patients. Having the patient inform you of patient-specific identifiers such as their name and date of birth should be hard-wired into your workflow. In addition, confirming this information against things like patient ID bands and specimen labels is essential to patient safety. Every patient needs to be identified, with no exceptions.

2. Keep a Clean Workplace

What would you think if you were brought to a patient room that was cluttered, disorganized, or even visibly dirty? You’re probably going to be somewhat concerned about the cleanliness of the room and what risk that may present to you. 

Preventable infection risks such as those associated with central line-associated bloodstream infections can absolutely be associated with medical errors. In addition to keeping up-to-date with OSHA-compliant regulations, maintaining standards like frequent hand washing, proper cleaning of the access ports, clinical guidelines in dressing changes, and a clean and organized workspace all support prevention of medical error.

3. Communicate Well

Patient safety is heavily reliant on proper communication between all those involved in a patient’s care. Gaps in communication leave opportunities for important information to be lost or misinterpreted. Good communication is supported by closing the loop and confirming the correct message was sent, validating your information is being heard and hitting the pause button if you need clarification.

We also can’t forget about communicating with the patients. Good communication with the patient supports their investment in their own health and safety. A clear explanation of diagnosis, follow-up care, and instructions on what to do if a condition worsens are a few topics to hit on to prevent communication-related safety events.

4. Be Mindful of Risks and Dangers

If you want to keep people safe, you need to know what the potential risks are. Being preoccupied with risk can keep you hypervigilant concerning what can go wrong. This can include something as simple as knowing a patient’s allergies or risk for falling. Knowing these risks can help you remain proactive instead of reactive to dangers. 

Patient specimen collection is another huge opportunity for risk. Sending a blood specimen type and screen on the wrong person for example can be life-threatening. If there are patient safety resources available like bar code scanning, use them as intended as an extra layer of safety in the prevention of medical error.

5. Understand What You Can Do to Prevent Medical and Medication Errors 

As a healthcare professional it is your responsibility to prepare yourself to properly identify different types of medical errors. It’s a big responsibility, but it’s also very empowering: it’s up to you to appreciate and implement opportunities for error prevention. In Florida, nurses are required to take a course in the prevention of medical error in order to renew their license. Florida requirement

To support your understanding of medical errors, learning opportunities like Medical and Medication Error Prevention by Premiere Education which covers the significance of patient safety, types of errors, root cause analysis, and prevention strategies is a great place to start.   

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