Study: Technology will help reduce medication errors

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Some 72 percent of frontline registered nurses surveyed believe that medication safety has improved in their hospital over the last five years, according to a survey on serious medication errors conducted by Harris Interactive and supported by McKesson.

Eighty percent of the respondents described technology as a major factor to that improvement. Yet, 94 percent of nurses polled reported seeing one or more serious medication errors during the same timeframe, so the industry is far from out of the woods.

The study was conducted in April 2005 and surveyed 216 registered nurses which were selected randomly from 125-bed hospitals across the nation. The study evaluated how nurses view their jobs, medication use, and their view regarding how technology is or can be used to make healthcare safer.

According to the study, 43 percent of nurses surveyed use online documentation tools as part of their nursing stations, and just 32 percent of respondents use these tools at the point of care. Automated medication cabinets are used by 70 percent of respondents, yet bar-code medication administration tools are used by only 23 percent of nurses who participated in the study. By scanning a bar code on a patient's wristband, a nurse can guarantee that the 'five rights' of medication safety are covered, including the right patient, right drug, right dose, right time and right route.

Other study results indicated that besides technology, 69 percent of respondents indicated that an environment that supports the examination of errors is a reason cited for improvements in medication safety. This result is based on respondents who feel medication safety is better in their own hospital. Other non-technology related reasons include improved communications between nurses and pharmacists (57 percent) and communications between nurses and doctors (49 percent).

Additionally, 72 percent said that administering an unfamiliar medication is a time they are most concerned that a medication error may occur. Patient transfers (53 percent) and shift changes (52 percent) are other potential areas for medication administration errors.