Nurses in the Know: Making Medical Mistakes a Thing of the Past

Nurses are notorious for making some serious medical mistakes, mostly with administering medications. Here are some eye-opening statistics as well as a few ways to eliminate them.

Frightening Statistics

Over 6 percent of hospital admittances are caused by nursing mistakes, according to a recent report published in Nursing Times. The cost of these mistakes has been calculated at £744 million according to the National Patient Safety Agency.

A key principle in medicine is to ensure patient safety and “first, do no harm.” Another study found that nurses who work more than 40 hours a week, or who work more than 12 hour shifts, are more likely to make mistakes – up to 3 times the mistakes made under normal circumstances. The study also noted that more than half of the mistakes involved administering of medication. Drugs were often given to the wrong patient at the wrong time or in the incorrect dosage.

Other mistakes included potential medical negligence, such as deviating from standard nursing practices.


Numeracy Errors

Numeracy errors are shockingly high, compared with their other nursing skills despite maths being a key part of the job description.

Poor numeracy is also a contributing factor to medication errors in the hospital and the community. A UK-based study confirmed the problem, noting that, when using a cross-sectional design, 44 registered nurses and 229 second-year diploma student nurses did very poorly on drug calculation tests. A stunning 92 percent of student nurses, and 89 percent of registered nurses failed those tests.

Half of both groups failed general numeracy tests.

Both groups were found less able to calculate drips and infusion rates than solids, oral liquids, and injections. Nurses also typically showed difficulty in interpreting and calculating information that involved multiplication of fractions.

Their ability was limited by their education, confidence, and interest in maths.

One of the suspected reasons for the high failure rate among existing nurses is that some nurses in primary care do not use these calculations daily and, therefore, are not well practised in them.
Inadequate Education Is A problem

Education seems to be a problem as well. Student nurses, and registered nurses, who did not enjoy maths in school, did not do well in those classes, showed lower test results than those who did.

A third study in the UK assessed the drug calculation skills of 124 registered nurses in five different teaching hospitals in the Republic of Ireland.

Each nurse was given a drug calculation test and questionnaire about their drug calculation education. These tests were then used to evaluate numeracy skills and cognitive processes in calculating drug doses and rates.

Researchers found that 60 percent of nurses passed the drug calculation test but only four achieved the top score.

Errors were largely a result of a lack of conceptual understanding rather than mathematical mistakes. Nurses had difficulty calculating intravenous infusion drip rates, which fewer than 7 percent having any formal examination on drug calculation in their undergraduate studies.

How To Fix This Problem

Obviously, nursing mistakes can cause a lot of harm, and no one wants to be on the receiving end of one. But, what can be done? Many experts believe that better adherence to medicines policy and stricter compliance with the laws will help.

Better education, and examination, concerning drug dosing and calculation will also help.

Evie Randall is a health and consumer advocate. She loves to share her insights online. Her articles appear mainly on health and finance websites.

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