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As patient admissions grow, will medication errors also spike?

Pockets throughout the country are experiencing a jump in COVID-19 cases that require medical intervention. As a result, local facilities are finding themselves facing an onslaught of patients. This surge can lead to physically and mentally overwhelmed medical professionals working to provide quality care in a rushed and urgent environment -- not a combination that can prove successful over an extended period of time. As a result, it is not a surprise that medical leaders are voicing concerns about a potential for a spike in medication errors.

A recent interview with an intensive care unit nurse notes that hospitals in this situation are in "pandemic nursing care" mode.

What types of medication errors are on the rise?

According to the interview, published by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, the majority of errors involved the wrong concentration of an infusion medication. Many patients admitted for treatment in this facility require infusions of fentanyl and other medications. In order to increase efficiency, nurses were taking in additional medications and leaving stashes for other nurses to better ensure they had what they needed while treating the patient. In this scenario, two different concentrations were in use. Whether due to a change in the prescription during the patient's stay or a mistake when gathering medications, patients were often receiving the wrong concentration.                                                                              

How can hospitals reduce the risk of these errors during the pandemic?

Hospital leaders can help address this issue with a two-step approach. First, it is important to promote error-reporting in a culture that respects confidentiality and provides an easy and efficient reporting protocol. Next, leaders should reduce the risk of the errors. The best method will vary depending on the facility, but safety huddles to discuss concerns with medical providers as well as a double check process to help make sure the right medications are getting to the right patients can help.

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