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Recovery from Medical Errors: The Critical Care Nursing Safety Net

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Background: Safety initiatives have primarily focused on physicians despite the fact that nurses provide the majority of direct inpatient care. Patient surveillance and preventing errors from harming patients represent essential nursing responsibilities but have received relatively little study.

Methods: The study was conducted between July 2003 and July 2004 in a 10-bed academic coronary care unit. Direct observation of nursing care and solicited and institutional incident reports were used to find potential incidents. Two physician reviewers rated incidents as to the presence, preventability, and potential severity of harm of errors and associated factors.

Results: Overall data were collected for 147 days, including 150 hours of direct observation. One hundred forty-two recovered medical errors were found, including 61% (86/142) during direct observations. Most errors (69%; 98/142) were intercepted before reaching the patients. Errors that reached patients included 13% that were mitigated before resulting in harm and 18% that were ameliorated before more severe harm could occur.

Discussion: Protecting patients from the potentially dangerous consequences of medical errors is one of the many ways critical care nurses improve patient safety. Interventions designed to increase the ability of nurses to recover and promptly report errors have the potential to improve patient outcomes.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2006

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  • Published monthly, The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety is a peer-reviewed publication dedicated to providing health professionals with the information they need to promote the quality and safety of health care. The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety invites original manuscripts on the development, adaptation, and/or implementation of innovative thinking, strategies, and practices in improving quality and safety in health care. Case studies, program or project reports, reports of new methodologies or new applications of methodologies, research studies on the effectiveness of improvement interventions, and commentaries on issues and practices are all considered.

    David W. Baker, MD, MPH, FACP, executive vice president for the Division of Healthcare Quality Evaluation at The Joint Commission, is the inaugural editor-in-chief of The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety.

    Also known as Joint Commission Journal on Quality Improvement and Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Safety
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