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Preoccupation, Interruptions & Multitasking Lead to Medical Errors

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Preoccupation, Interruptions & Multitasking Lead to Medical Errors

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medication errorsAccording to the Institute of Medicine, an estimated 7,000 deaths in the United States yearly are due to medication errors. And, the Agency for Health Research and Quality estimates over 770,000 patients are injured each year from medication errors. An error occurs in one of every five doses of medication in the hospital.

These errors occur from a missed dose or wrong timing, inaccurate measurement, medication interactions, expiration or improper storage, confusion in medication or patient names, or incorrect route of administration. There can be errors in prescribing, transcribing an order or verbal order, misreading a label or incorrect documentation. One third of all errors are due to similar drug names.

These errors can happen at any point along the process from prescription by the healthcare provider, to dispensing by the pharmacist, to administration by a nurse, ancillary staff person or patient. When you realize all the steps in the chain of getting a medication to a particular person, it is easy to see how vigilance and attention are essential to prevent errors.

More and more studies are examining how inattention from distractions, preoccupation and multitasking contribute to medical errors. Inadequate staffing and work overload contributes to increases in interruptions and multitasking.

An Australian Health Informatics Research and Evaluation Unit reported that nurse interruptions resulted in increases in serious medication errors. It was clear that when interruptions increased, quality decreased. Interruptions included alarms going off, phone calls, co-worker inquiries and searching for supplies. Several studies report that information is lost during interruption and that multitasking creates a higher memory load, both contributing to medical error. They also found that most nurses accept interruptions as part of the job rather than taking steps to prevent them.

When it comes to something as detailed as preparing and delivering medications interruptions and distractions can be dangerous and at times fatal. Providing proper medicine dosage, delivery and documentation demands full attention to detail.

Providers must not short cut the safety procedures of double checking dosage, route and patient identification. It is also important to take the time to clarify poorly written prescriptions with the provider rather than making assumptions about what might be meant.

Preventing medical errors from preoccupation, distraction and multitasking requires vigilance on everyone’s part.
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Aila Accad, RN, MSN is an award-winning speaker, best-selling author and certified coach and EFT advanced practitioner, who specializes in quick ways to release stress and empower your life. A member of the National Speakers Association, she is a popular keynote speaker and radio and television guest.

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