Friday, April 17, 2009

Risk points across the medication use system

Recently, Nurse Ausmed shared a great post about an intervention that lessened the likelihood of an IV medication error occuring in a pediatric patient. Her take-away lesson was "simplify, simplify," a core principle in safe medication practices.

Earlier this week, I wrote that Nurse Ausmed's online case study would lend itself to a basic excercise in identifying the latent (or upstream) conditions that often lead to error on the front line. Links to ideas about modeling human error (developed by James Reason) and some online pediatric medication safety resources were provided.

Here are my initial thoughts:

To answer the question, "Could the error-prone condition be identified and the potential for patient harm lessened before it reached the front line?" start by considering what the medication use system looks like:

The roles and responsibilities of professionals ("who does what, when, and how") may vary according to practice setting and applicable professional standards of care. Irrespective of setting, however, prescribing, transcribing, dispensing, administering, and monitoring are the units, or nodes, that make up the medication use system.

It's important to pause for a moment and take this in. As individuals, we typically focus on the portion of the system where our own professional duties lie, rather the system as a whole, making it difficult to see upstream opportunities.

Now consider the problem of errors in the medication use system:

Errors may originate at any point in the process. In the slide below, the red arrow illustrates how an error that began in the prescribing phase is not picked up, moving through all downstream defenses to reach the patient.

Seminal medication safety research shows the likelihood of catching (and correcting) an error increases the further upstream the error originates. This makes sense since an error in the prescriber's order has the potential to be picked up by the person who dispenses the drug, the person who administers the drug, or the patient. This is why processes like independent double checks and automated clinical decision support are valuable: they make errors and error-prone conditions visible before they reach the patient.

Unfortunately, errors that originate in the administration phase are highly unlikely to be picked up before they reach the patient. This is why processes at the point of administration should be as simple, standard, accurate, and dependable as feasible. (I think of clinicians who administer medications and the processes they use as I would a flight crew: it's probably not a good idea to expect problems to be solved at 35,000 feet that could have reasonably been resolved on the ground or to use patchy processes to accomplish high-stakes, in-flight tasks.)

Later next week, I'll come back to this topic, using clinical information Nurse Ausmed shared to help identify strategies for preventing IV medication errors in peds that are on the high end of the risk reduction hierarchy. I'd hope you'll share the risk-reduction strategies you use when you care for pediatric patients.

Stay safe and come back soon! I've been thinking about something I heard Paula Poundstone say last week, and the next time you check in, you need to be ready to laugh!


Reality Rounds said...

Great post Barbara. I am always very interested in preventing pediatric medication errors. Your site is very helpful.

Barbara Olson, MS, RN, FISMP said...

Thanks, RR. I'm working on a post with more specific recommendations for diminishing error-risk with pediatric IV infusions... hope to have it ready by the end of the week. Would love to hear other med safety issues that would be of interest to you.

Take care and thanks again for the feedback.


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