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15 Nov 2016

Going Above and Beyond for Medication Safety

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One of the most vital responsibilities of any nurse is the preparation and dispensation of medicines to patients. Even with a reasonable level of caution, mistakes can occasionally be made. Rarely, these mistakes will have tragic consequences. More often, administering the wrong medication or the incorrect dose will result in complications that will require further medical care that will assuredly increase costs and patient discomfort. This is why it is essential for nurses to go the extra mile when it comes to correctly handling medications.

Review the Fundamentals

Double-check every medication order, looking to ensure that all necessary information is provided. If any element such as the drug’s name, dosage, frequency or the manner in which it is supposed to be administered is missing, then verify the order with the practitioner before going further. The doctor has likely already checked to see if the patient has any allergies to the prescribed drug, but it’s sensible for the nurse to conduct a similar review in case anything has been missed.

Be Focused

Medication preparation is not the time for multi-tasking. Work on only one medication order at a time, and find ways to limit distractions. This may mean routinely using the facility’s no-interruption zone for medication preparation. Make certain to follow any other no-interruption policies that the facility uses, like wearing a signifier that tells others you are preparing medications and should not be disturbed with other matters.

Remain Calm and Get Organized

Nursing is a notoriously high-stress profession. Dealing with so many patients, family members and co-workers can become bothersome for anyone. Unfortunately, this sometimes leaves nurses feeling stressed, rushed, angry or frustrated. In the midst of a long shift, it’s also possible to feel inordinately tired and hungry. Be aware of your own emotional and physical state before working with medications. It may be wise to engage in a breathing or relaxation exercise before preparing or administering drugs to avoid a mistake.

Be especially alert when dealing with medications that can be particularly harmful if they are administered in error, like sedatives or anticoagulants. Review the order to ensure it is correct, and then ask another knowledgeable nurse to double check your work. This simple step could save a patient’s life.

Avoid Confusion

It’s an unfortunate reality in the medical world that many medications have similar names. Despite names that look or sound a great deal alike, many of these drugs are used for vastly different purposes. Never assume that a medication order that looks like vinblastine is actually vincristine. If there is any doubt, consult with the practitioner. Likewise, don’t let yourself be put on the wrong track by names on medication bottles that look incredibly similar. Take your time. Read each letter carefully to ensure that a mistake isn’t made.

Know How to React If an Error Occurs

Despite all best efforts, errors do occasionally occur. Be prepared for this by educating yourself regarding all reversal agents and antidotes. Know where they are in your facility, how to administer them and how to calculate the proper dosage.

Provide Patient Education

Talk with patients about the medications you are administering. Let them know the name of the drug and its purpose. Explain any side effects that may occur. Encourage them to communicate with you if they think that something doesn’t seem as it should be.

Similarly, provide clear, written instructions regarding prescriptions for patients who are heading home. If possible, counsel them and family members so that they understand which drugs should be taken, how frequently they should be taken and the precise dosage.

By going the extra mile with medication preparation and administration, it is possible for nurses to limit harmful drug interactions and errors in the type and dosage of medication.

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