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Interrupting a Nurse Makes Medication Errors More Likely
Date:4/26/2010

In hospitals, mishaps increase along with distractions, study finds

MONDAY, April 26 (HealthDay News) -- Distracting an airline pilot during taxi, takeoff or landing could lead to a critical error. Apparently the same is true of nurses who prepare and administer medication to hospital patients.

A new study shows that interrupting nurses while they're tending to patients' medication needs increases the chances of error. As the number of distractions increases, so do the number of errors and the risk to patient safety.

"We found that the more interruptions a nurse received while administering a drug to a specific patient, the greater the risk of a serious error occurring," said the study's lead author, Johanna I. Westbrook, director of the Health Informatics Research and Evaluation Unit at the University of Sydney in Australia.

For instance, four interruptions in the course of a single drug administration doubled the likelihood that the patient would experience a major mishap, according to the study, reported in the April 26 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Experts say the study is the first to show a clear association between interruptions and medication errors.

It "lends important evidence to identifying the contributing factors and circumstances that can lead to a medication error," said Carol Keohane, program director for the Center of Excellence for Patient Safety Research and Practice at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

"Patients and family members don't understand that it's dangerous to patient safety to interrupt nurses while they're working," added Linda Flynn, associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing in Baltimore. "I have seen my own family members go out and interrupt the nurse when she's standing at a medication cart to ask for an extra towel or something [else] inappropriate."

Julie Kliger, who serves as program
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