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Barry Doyle
Barry Doyle
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Judge rules medication errors caused by workload

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At a recent administrative law hearing for unemployment benefits, a judge ruled that a nurse’s discharge was not for cause — even though she made many errors in the care of patients under her charge — because the errors were the result of the multiple responsibilities that had been placed on the nurse. Therefore, the judge awrded unemployment benefits that the hospital had been contesting.

The errors cited by the hospital included a three hour delay in administering medication to a man who suffering from sepsis, giving one patient the medication at a rate six times higher than was ordered, and

Haste or inadequate time to complete the work is a common factor in causing medication errors, and is one of the most commonly cited causes in many studies analyzing prescription medication errors.

While academics have noted its role in producing medication errors, it is interesting in this case to see the judge take the whole picture into account and reach the conclusion that workload, not incompetence, was the cause of these errors.

This places the onus on medication errors on employers who overload the nurses and pharmacists with too much work to allow them to concentrate on the crucial tasks they have to complete: getting the right medication to the right patient in the right dose by the right means at the right time. Deviation from any of the so-called “Five R’s” can result in serious harm to the patient.