Reporting Medication Errors in Nursing

In the U.S., thousands of people die due to a medication error each year. The actual number of medication errors is difficult to determine because only a small number are detected and an even smaller number of errors are reported.

There are also inconsistencies in the counting and reporting of medication errors in nursing due to differences in training and institutional policies and procedures. There is great variation in how errors are defined, who is required to report errors, and what specific information should be included when making a medication error report.

Medication error reporting is instrumental in identifying types of errors and potential gaps in the process of safe medication administration.

Reporting Medication Errors in Nursing

Medication Error Reporting Investigations

Nurses and other medical professionals do not deliberately commit medication errors, but when an error is discovered, there is a tendency to immediately place blame on the professionals involved. This discourages future reporting.

The question of who was involved should not be the focus of medication error investigations. It is more important to determine how and why the system failed.

Faulty systems, outdated or fragmented processes, and poor working conditions are responsible for the majority of errors, not incompetence or recklessness. Medication error reporting should be the first step in evaluating and improving these systems and processes to prevent errors from reoccurring in the future.

Some Reasons Medication Errors Are Not Reported Include:

  • Embarrassment
  • Fear of professional reprimand or punishment from employers, regulatory agencies, colleagues, patients and families
  • Fear of legal ramifications
  • Fear of license suspension or revocation
  • Lack of awareness that a mistake occurred
  • Failure to recognize the significance of an error
  • Unfamiliarity with medication administration error reporting process
  • Fear of retribution for reporting someone else's error

Safe Medication Error Reporting Culture

Nursing managers who demonstrate positive responses to the reporting of medication errors not only improve patient safety by encouraging further reporting, but they help ease the guilt, blame, anxiety, self-doubt and depression that healthcare workers experience following serious errors.

Reporting Medication Errors in Nursing

Institutions can improve patient safety and outcomes by learning what went wrong when errors do occur and by utilizing the resources of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP).

The ISMP is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing medication errors and is respected as the standard for medication safety. This organization also runs a voluntary medication error reporting system and provides resources, including newsletters and reports, based on medication errors that are reported.

Follow your institution's policies and procedures for reporting medication errors effectively.

Medication Error Reporting Resources

For more information on reporting medication errors, shifting to a blame-free culture, and medication errors in nursing, review the resources below. 

Nursing and Medication Errors

Shifting the Perceptions of Error Reporting Among Newly Licensed Nurses
Journal for Nurses in Professional Development

Agent-Based Modeling Simulation of Nurse Medication Administration Errors
CIN: Computers, Informatics, Nursing

Reporting and Confronting Errors

Confronting Medical Error 

AJN, American Journal of Nursing

Medication Errors Involving the Intravenous Administration Route: Characteristics of Voluntarily Reported Medication Errors
Journal of Infusion Nursing

A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of the Medical Error Rate in Iran: 2005-2019

Quality Management in Health Care