Nursing Beyond the Hospital: Preventing Med Errors

nursingWhether you’re a seasoned RN or a newbie LPN, the term “medication error” is sure to send a shiver right up your spine. It doesn’t matter if the fault was yours or another nurse working three floors about you. The idea of someone receiving the wrong dosage, the wrong medication or even the right medication in the wrong form is something none of us want to happen. Unfortunately, it does sometimes, but safeguards and checklists are put in place in the medical setting to help protect against it.

But what about at home? When your patients go pick up their prescriptions from your hospital pharmacy, or even the Walgreens down the road, do they know exactly what they should do with it? There are an estimated 180,000 deaths each year because of medical errors, and not all of them occur inside hospital walls. If you’ve ever worked in the ER, you know this to be true. Parents come in with children who receive the wrong dose of an over-the-counter medication. Elderly patients enter the emergency room, astonished they were given isn’t working because they are chewing it instead of swallowing it.

As a nurse, one of your jobs is to keep your patients informed. When it comes to home medication distribution, just how much sway do you actually have, though? Turns out, quite a bit. By taking these tips into consideration each time you see a patient, you might limit the number of errors they make when they’re doling out the meds.

Nursing and Medication Errors at Home

When four out of every five adults in the United States have trouble interpreting prescription medication bottles, something must be done. It starts with you.

  • Start with teaching them what every medication is for. Don’t take for granted that they understand what medications they are taking, even if they have been taking them for a while. You might be surprised at how little they understand what the med is actually doing for them.
  • Pronounce the medication several times while you’re discussing it. As you might remember from nursing school after CNA training, there are a number of medications that are difficult to pronounce. If they happen to have questions about those medications later, they will know how to pronounce it when they are calling for help.
  • Tell them why certain medications can’t be mixed with others or taken certain ways. Do they know exactly why they shouldn’t drink when they are being prescribed ketoconazole? Do they understand what might happen if they eat a slice of grapefruit when taking simvastatin? If not, this should all be explained.
  • Make the dosage clear for them. Some patients can become confused by the number of times they need to take the pill versus the number of pills they need to take. Also point out HOW they are to take the medications. I remember a story of an elderly man who was prescribed an analgesic medication. He assumed he needed to take it anally, and was very disappointed when it didn’t help his pain.

As a nurse, working with patients and helping them understand their medication is an important part of your career. Make sure you understand how to help them avoid medication errors that could land them back in the hospital when you begin your career in nursing.

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