Interruptions Increase Medication Errors by Nurses

The higher the frequency of interruptions, the greater the error severity
By Jeff Muise
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, April 27 (HealthDay News) -- Nurses who are interrupted in the process of preparing and administering medications are more likely to make an error, with error severity increasing with the number of interruptions, according to a study in the April 26 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Johanna I. Westbrook, Ph.D., of the University of Sydney in Australia, and colleagues conducted an observational study of 98 nurses giving medications to a total of 720 patients at two major teaching hospitals in Sydney, Australia. Interruptions and procedural failures were recorded, and clinical errors were identified through comparisons of observational data and the patients' medication charts.

The researchers found that medication administrations with no interruptions had a procedural failure rate of 69.6 percent, and that the failure rate was 84.6 percent with three interruptions. For clinical errors, the error rate was 25.3 percent with no interruptions and 38.9 percent with three interruptions. Error severity was found to increase with greater interruption frequency, with a 2.3 percent estimated risk of a major error with no interruption, and a 4.7 percent estimated risk with four interruptions. Nurse experience afforded no protection against clinical error and was actually linked to greater rates of procedural failure.

"The more interruptions nurses received, the greater the number of errors. Furthermore, we found that, as interruptions increased within a single drug administration, the greater the severity of error," the authors write.

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