Preventing Mistakes in Patient Care


“Mistakes were made.” This phrase has been a frequent refrain in public announcements lately. Yet it is never something we want to hear in the context of medical care, either acute or routine. Mistakes in a hospital can (and do) cost patients their lives. Preventing medical errors in nursing must be a consistent priority at every level of the health care system.

There are many reasons why errors happen in patient care. The results of a Practice Breakdown Research Advisory Panel study in 2002 identified 8 distinct categories of nursing errors. In each of these categories the researchers found that the system, the individual, and the practice were all contributing factors in the errors studied. 

Giving sufficient time and attention to each patient is essential in preventing medical errors in nursing. Nurses need to focus on each patient, to ensure that nothing is being overlooked. They have to know what the patient needs, what they are going through. All this is difficult to achieve consistently when nurses are rushed off their feet, sometimes stretched over more patients than they can adequately care for. 

Problems in the medical system itself are also opportunities for attention and improvement. Such problems can and do contribute to errors and failures in patient care. When nursing staff are stretched too thin, when there is an inadequate number of providers for the volume or intensity of patient needs, then preventing medical errors in nursing becomes very difficult. Both policy makers and healthcare industry leaders need to work toward improvements in these areas.

There is no single “magic bullet” solution to medical errors in nursing care. Training programs — both initial and ongoing — are an important part of any solution. Much can be done in the with education, and with continuing training and encouragement, to help nursing professionals avoid preventable mistakes that could harm patients.