All medication errors are serious, but those associated with the IV route of administration often result in the most severe outcomes. According to the literature, IV medications are associated with 54% of potential adverse events, and 56% of medication errors.
To determine the type and frequency of errors associated with prescribing, documenting, and administering IV infusions, and to also determine if a correlation exists between the incidence of errors and either the time of day (day versus night) or the day of the week (weekday versus weekend) in an academic medicosurgical intensive care unit without computerized order entry or documentation.
As part of a quality improvement initiative, a prospective, observational audit was conducted for all IV infusions administered to critically ill patients during 40 randomly selected shifts over a 7-month period in 2007. For each IV infusion, data were collected from 3 sources: direct observation of administration of the medication to the patient, the medication administration record, and the patient’s medical chart. The primary outcome was the occurrence of any infusion-related errors, defined as any errors of omission or commission in the context of IV medication therapy that harmed or could have harmed the patient.
It was determined that up to 21 separate errors might occur in association with a single dose of an IV medication. In total, 1882 IV infusions were evaluated, and 5641 errors were identified. Omissions or discrepancies related to documentation accounted for 92.7% of all errors. The most common errors identified via each of the 3 data sources were incomplete labelling of IV tubing (1779 or 31.5% of all errors), omission of infusion diluent from the medication administration record (474 or 8.4% of all errors), and discrepancy between the medication order as recorded in the patient’s chart and the IV medication that was being infused (105 or 1.9% of all errors).
Strict definitions of errors and direct observation methods allowed identification of errors at every step of the medication administration process that was evaluated. Documentation discrepancies were the most prevalent type of errors in this paper-based system.