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Medical error crisis in North America

By Jenna Leslie [1]

BELLEVILLE – The coordinator of the Brock University-Loyalist College Collaborative Baccalaureate Nursing Program [2] says teaching and technology are helping to prevent medical mistakes – the third leading cause of death in North America.

Elizabeth Edwards says both thorough teaching and improving technology are helping to address these mistakes in hospitals.

According to an article by the World Health Innovation Network [3], these mistakes include things like misdiagnosis, allergic responses to medicine and even surgeries on the wrong patients.

But the most common mistake is medication errors.

She says that in the nursing program they focus primarily on the administration of medication. Edwards says her students go through many steps to ensure that they are safe to give medication to their patients.

In first year, the students do a series of labs where they first learn to administer oral medication then move into subcutaneous injections. This includes things like puffers, rectal meds and inter-muscular injections.

In second year they move into the more complicated intravenous injections.

Students are not able to administer any medication without being under the supervision of their clinical professor and they must first prove that they are safe to give them before they do so.

They are also required to do three checks to ensure that they are giving the right dose of the right drug to the right patient at the right time. Bracelets of the patients are checked to ensure that they have the right records.

Edwards says that there are still the occasional mixup however accuracy is getting better. She credits this accuracy to the improving technology that is being implemented.

According to Edwards, Quinte Health Care uses a system known as Omnicell [4] to keep track of their medication. The system is designed in a way that a nurse or practitioner enters the medication they need into the computer and the drugs are automatically dispensed. There is no confusion over writing or packaging as it is all automated.

“I’ve spent many nightshifts puzzling over a physician’s order and trying to read the handwriting… and now everything goes into a computer,” said Edwards.

“The opportunities for error are decreasing because we have technology that limits those opportunities,” she said.