Making mistakes is normal in every aspect of life. Mistakes are unavoidable at times, and no one is perfect, even nurses!

In fact, a 2010 study showed that 100% of nurses have made at least one mistake during their careers.

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Do Nurses Get Fired For Med Errors?

Fortunately, nurses do not automatically get fired for making medical errors. Instead, nurses are given the opportunity to correct their mistakes, notify their supervisors of errors, and document them. They can be fired or have legal action taken against them if there is willful misconduct found.

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What Types Of Mistakes Are Common With Nurses?

Unlike other jobs, mistakes in nursing can have disastrous consequences in people’s lives.

Due to nurses working in the medical field, it’s crucial that every effort is made to prevent mistakes at work. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible. 

Some common mistakes that nurses make include:

  • Administering wrong medication dosages
  • Mixing up medications for different patients
  • Mixing up a person’s medical history
  • Improper documentation of procedures
  • Failing to document medical procedures or medication
  • Not programming an IV pump properly resulting in erroneous medication dosages

Fortunately, many of these mistakes can be avoided with a bit of diligence and by following safety protocols.

How To Prevent Medication Errors

Although there is no 100% full-proof way to prevent medication errors, every hospital, clinic, or nursing home has policies and regulations in place to ensure every effort is made to prevent medication mishaps.

1. Scan Your Medications Before Administration

The first and probably most important is to scan the patient’s medications before giving it to them.

Even in this day and age, not all hospitals have electronic medical records (EMAR) or a means to scan medications before administering them.

I will also confess that even for those who do, the way they set it up often can be inefficient and actually slow you down.

I get all of that but scanning your meds is a good way to reduce patient errors.

For instance, if you pulled the wrong medication from The Omnicell, the computer will catch the discrepancy before you give it.

What’s an Omnicell?
For those of you that don’t know what an Omnicell is, it’s just a machine where nursing staff can pull the medications they need.

The Omnicell can keep track of medications, especially when narcotics (and other controlled drugs) are involved.

The hospital pharmacy is in charge of stocking and maintaining the Omnicell.

Omnicell is just a brand of hospital med dispensers. There are others such as Pyxis, Accudose, etc.

Related: Can a Nurse Access Anyone’s Medical Records?

2. Slow Down

nurse thinking

It’s impossible to work as a nurse in a slow-paced environment. However, you must take your time to administer medications and listen to the doctor’s orders properly.

Do some deep breathing exercises, slow down, and call the doctor to clarify any orders if you have any questions.

If you’re a new nurse and need help administering medications, don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues for help.

3. Follow The Nursing Rights of Medication

If you’re having trouble remembering how to administer medications appropriately, know the Five Rights by heart.

These five rights will help you remember how to administer medication properly and reduce medication errors. They include:

1. Right Patient

Double-check the patient’s name badge to ensure you give them the appropriate medication.

If there is a name alert out for two patients with the same last name, make sure your patient matches the medical ID or social security number of the patient receiving the medication.

2. Right Drug

Double-check the spelling of the drug that is being administered, as many can have the same suffixes or similar spelling. Confirm it is the right medication before administering.

3. Right Route

Make sure you deliver the medication as the doctor prescribed, whether oral, through a feeding tube, IM, IV, etc. These are critical due to varying absorption times.

4. Right Time

Double-check that you’re administering the medication at the appropriate time of the day and that another nurse hasn’t already administered the medication to that patient already.

5. Right Dose

Double-check your conversions and ensure you’re administering the right dose (for instance, milligrams vs. micrograms). Check with the pharmacist or use a calculator if need be!

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4. Good Medication Reconciliation Practices

a nurse taking a blood pressure

First and foremost, it’s essential to have what is known as medication reconciliation take place before a patient is put into a nurse’s care.

Medication reconciliation takes count of all the patient’s medication, and with a few suggestions from the doctor, an accurate representation of a patient’s medication is taken.

Medication reconciliation practices are essential since 40% of medication errors are due to improper medication reconciliation. This can lead to:

  • Errors in dosing
  • Double doses of medication
  • Missed doses of medication
  • Harmful medication interactions

Medication reconciliation is a team effort. As a nurse, you will play a vital role in this process. To ensure no medication errors occur:

  • When receiving a handoff for a patient, ask for all appropriate paperwork including medication lists from a prior hospital 
  • Make sure that you interview the patient as best as possible to get a full medical history and current list of active medications
  • Ask the patient about past allergic reactions and document these as well
  • Review all charting on the patient prior to their admission
  • Document all of your findings appropriately

What If I Still Make a Mistake?

If you’re afraid you’ll be fired after making a medication error, don’t be. There’s some legal precedence on your side.

For example, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has stated that a nurse cannot be fired for a medication error, even if it leads to disastrous consequences for a patient, unless willful misconduct is found.

If you do make a mistake, take the following steps:

  1. Follow your hospital’s protocols for situations like this.
  2. Notify your supervisor (charge nurse on duty) and the on-call doctor who will prescribe another medication, such as Benadryl, to prevent unwanted side effects such as an allergic reaction.
  3. Inform the patient of what has happened, as this is part of the Code of Medical Ethics and is known as the duty to disclose.
  4. Document the situation through your hospital’s appropriate procedures.
  5. Don’t beat yourself up. Mistakes happen. Be honest and continue to do your best!

Errare Humanum Est

This is a Latin phrase that means “to err is human.”

Nurses will eventually make a med error, but unless they do so as an evil deed, there is no need to fret over it. Follow the five rights and do your best to prevent any errors.

Comment below! Have you ever made a mistake? What was the outcome?

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Have You Read These Yet?

Frequently Asked Questions

A nurse can be sued for a medication error (and just about anything). Whether or not a nurse is liable will depend on whether a patient is harmed or killed due to the medication error.

In the age of electronic medical records and med scanners, a nurse should never give the wrong medication to the wrong patient. Or commit any other medication administration errors.

Medication errors are one of the most common errors in nursing.

Nurses need to report medication errors so the patient can be monitored and treated for any adverse effects.

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