"We need to reframe this in a new light, which is, it's an important, critical function," Kliger said. "We need to give it the respect that it is due because it is high volume, high risk and, if we don't do it right, there's patient harm and it costs money."
About one-third of harmful medication errors occur during medication administration, studies show. Prior to this study, though, there was little if any data on what role interruptions might play.
For the study, the researchers observed 98 nurses preparing and administering 4,271 medications to 720 patients at two Sydney teaching hospitals from September 2006 through March 2008. Using handheld computers, the observers recorded nursing procedures during medication administration, details of the medication administered and the number of interruptions experienced.
The computer software allowed data to be collected on multiple drugs and on multiple patients even as nurses moved between drug preparation and administration and among patients during a medication round.
Errors were classified as either "procedural failures," such as failing to read the medication label, or "clinical errors," such as giving the wrong drug or wrong dose.
Only one in five drug administrations (19.8 percent) was completely error-free, the study found.
Interruptions occurred during more than half (53.1 percent) of all administrations, and each interruption was associated with a 12.1 percent increase, on average, in procedural failures and a 12.7 percent increase in clinical errors.
Most errors (79.3 percent) were minor, having little or no impact on patients, according to the study. However, 115 errors (2
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