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Better work environments for nurses result in fewer medication errors

Errors tied to medication are a primary threat to patient safety, contributing to more than 7,000 in-patient deaths each year. Medication errors can happen at any time—when the medicine is prescribed, transcribed, dispersed or administered. But in this medication chain, it is the registered nurse who is most likely to catch a mistake before it reaches the patient.

A study of nurses, published in the June 2012 issue of the Journal of Nursing Scholarship, found that nurses often used "intervention practices," such as comparing the medication administration record and patient records; determining the reason for each ordered medication; requesting that doctors rewrite medication orders if they used improper abbreviations; and making sure patients and their families understand the medication regimen. According to the study, when nurses used these practices medication errors dropped significantly.

The study also found that nurses were more likely to be in a position to perform these interventions if they worked in a supportive practice environment—one in which teamwork between doctors and nurses is valued; where nurses are given a voice on the job by being allowed to participate in decisions regarding their units and the hospital; and where nurses are offered continuing education opportunities.

"Nursing practices that identify and intercept medication errors not only benefit patients, they benefit a hospital's bottom line," says Linda Flynn, associate dean at Rutgers University's College of Nursing. "Healthcare administrators should carefully consider available strategies to ensure supportive work environments for nurses," notes Flynn, who was the study's lead researcher. [Adrienne Coles]

September 17, 2012