Medication Administration Errors in Assisted Living: Scope, Characteristics, and the Importance of Staff Training

Authors

  • Sheryl Zimmerman PhD,

    1. From the Program on Aging, Disability, and Long-Term Care, Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research
    2. School of Social Work
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  • Karen Love BS,

    1. Center for Excellence in Assisted Living, Falls Church, Virginia
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  • Philip D. Sloane MD, MPH,

    1. From the Program on Aging, Disability, and Long-Term Care, Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research
    2. Department of Family Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
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  • Lauren W. Cohen MA,

    1. From the Program on Aging, Disability, and Long-Term Care, Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research
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  • David Reed PhD,

    1. From the Program on Aging, Disability, and Long-Term Care, Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research
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  • Paula C. Carder PhD,

    1. School of Community Health, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon.
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  • for the Center for Excellence in Assisted Living–University of North Carolina Collaborative


  • aThe CEAL-UNC Collaborative for this project includes Jan Brickley, Kathy Cameron, Paula Carder, Thomas Clark, Lauren Cohen, Geni Eng, Sandi Flores, Patricia Giorgio, Daniel Haimowitz, Jena Ivey, Karen Love, Ethel Mitty, Jackie Pinkowitz, David Reed, Philip Sloane, Lynn Spragens, Paul Williams, Rebecca Youngblut, and Sheryl Zimmerman.

Address correspondence to Sheryl Zimmerman, Kenan Distinguished Professor and Co-Director, Program on Aging, Disability, and Long-Term Care, Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 725 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Box 7590, Chapel Hill, NC 27599. E-mail: sheryl_zimmerman@unc.edu

Abstract

OBJECTIVES: To compare rates of medication errors committed by assisted living staff with different training and to examine characteristics of errors.

DESIGN: Observation of medication preparation and passes, chart review, interviews, and questionnaires.

SETTING: Stratified random sample of 11 assisted living communities in South Carolina (which permits nonnurses to administer medications) and Tennessee (which does not).

PARTICIPANTS: All staff who prepared or passed medications: nurses (one registered nurse and six licensed practical nurses (LPNs)); medication aides (n=10); and others (n=19), including those with more and less training.

MEASUREMENTS: Rates of errors related to medication, dose and form, preparation, route, and timing.

RESULTS: Medication preparation and administration were observed for 4,957 administrations during 83 passes for 301 residents. The error rate was 42% (20% when omitting timing errors). Of all administrations, 7% were errors with moderate or high potential for harm. The odds of such an error by a medication aide were no more likely than by a LPN, but the odds of one by staff with less training was more than two times as great (odds ratio=2.10, 95% confidence interval=1.27–3.49). A review of state regulations found that 20 states restrict nonnurses to assisting with self-administration of medications.

CONCLUSION: Medication aides do not commit more errors than LPNs, but other nonnurses who administered a significant number of medications and assisted with self-administration committed more errors. Consequently, all staff who handle medications should be trained to the level of a medication aide.

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