Aims and objectives. We aimed to encourage nurses to release information about drug administration errors to increase understanding of error-related circumstances and to identify high-alert situations.
Background. Drug administration errors represent the majority of medication errors, but errors are underreported. Effective ways are lacking to encourage nurses to actively report errors.
Methods. Snowball sampling was conducted to recruit participants. A semi-structured questionnaire was used to record types of error, hospital and nurse backgrounds, patient consequences, error discovery mechanisms and reporting rates.
Results. Eighty-five nurses participated, reporting 328 administration errors (259 actual, 69 near misses). Most errors occurred in medical surgical wards of teaching hospitals, during day shifts, committed by nurses working fewer than two years. Leading errors were wrong drugs and doses, each accounting for about one-third of total errors. Among 259 actual errors, 83·8% resulted in no adverse effects; among remaining 16·2%, 6·6% had mild consequences and 9·6% had serious consequences (severe reaction, coma, death). Actual errors and near misses were discovered mainly through double-check procedures by colleagues and nurses responsible for errors; reporting rates were 62·5% (162/259) vs. 50·7% (35/69) and only 3·5% (9/259) vs. 0% (0/69) were disclosed to patients and families. High-alert situations included administration of 15% KCl, insulin and Pitocin; using intravenous pumps; and implementation of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
Conclusions. Snowball sampling proved to be an effective way to encourage nurses to release details concerning medication errors. Using empirical data, we identified high-alert situations. Strategies for reducing drug administration errors by nurses are suggested.
Relevance to clinical practice. Survey results suggest that nurses should double check medication administration in known high-alert situations. Nursing management can use snowball sampling to gather error details from nurses in a non-reprimanding atmosphere, helping to establish standard operational procedures for known high-alert situations.