Disclosing Medical Errors: A Nurse’s Role

by Howard Gerber on January 26, 2012

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Everyone makes mistakes in their personal life and in their professional life. This is true for all people in all professions. However, it is more important when a mistake is made in the field of medicine because it can result in the death of a patient. It can be scary to admit to someone that you have made a mistake, and terrifying if that mistake may have negatively affected their health. However, it is one of the most important parts of a nurse’s job.

Follow Procedure

If you have never made a mistake on the job, you have been very lucky. As with any run of luck, it won’t last. When it does happen, it is important to follow the procedures put in place by your facility. They are in place to help patients, staff, and the facility. Each facility has different protocols, so be sure to learn what you are supposed to do as soon as possible. While it can be overwhelming to keep up with all of the administrative tasks and procedure policies, it is important to keep this information where it is easily accessible. This will help protect all concerned parties. If you are unsure of current policy, ask your immediate supervisor. If you find it difficult to obtain exact information on what you should do, consider talking to you safety board or human resources contact and suggesting a review on procedures for the entire staff.

Learning from Mistakes

Aside from the importance of correcting any errors as soon as possible to minimize the negative impact on patient health, medical professionals can learn from each other’s mistakes. When errors are reported they are monitored, and when the same mistake is seen repeatedly, standard procedures may change to prevent that mistake from happening in the future. If nurses fail to report these mistakes it is almost certain they will continue to happen.

Legal Concerns

You may be worried that you will lose your job or face legal consequences if you disclose an error. While it is certainly possible, following the procedures outlined by your medical facility will minimize this. You must be empathetic to the patients but before speaking to the patient or family about an error, be sure you know what you are and are not allowed to say. Even if you do face legal consequences or the loss of the job, it is still your duty to report the error.

Have you ever had to disclose a medical error? Did you see changes put into place because of your report?

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