Pediatric Nurses Interrupted by Phone Calls have been Associated with a Rise in Medication Errors
The cell phone is a double-edged sword, as anyone knows. A ringing phone or pinging text message while driving can splinter a driver’s attention and create a danger to others, but the roads are not the only dangerous settings for cell phone distractions. Distracted healthcare workers also get incoming calls and texts on the job. When that job is handling patients in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), such interruptions can result in harmful errors. The extent to which cell phone call distractions caused nurses to make mistakes in the pediatric ICU was the subject of a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics.
Investigating the Effects of Interruptions in Nursing
The study, involving 257 nurses and 3308 patients in the PICU, correlated received phone calls with medication errors. Specifically, an incoming call within 10 minutes of giving a patient medication was more likely to cause the nurse to err, especially among less experienced nurses, night shift workers, those with higher nurse-to-patient ratios, and those tending to higher care needs patients. Medication administration errors included reporting mistakes and bar code error alerts. A bar code alert occurs when a nurse tries to give a patient medication that the doctor did not order.
The study’s authors, Christopher P. Bonafide and colleagues, reviewed two years’ worth of work cell telephone and electronic health records of a PICU. The study results found that 3.7% of 238,540 attempted medication administrations contained errors when incoming phone interruptions occurred, compared to 3.1% without incoming phone call interruptions. Interestingly, text messages had a negligible effect on medication administration errors, even though almost half of the test subjects received text messages within ten minutes of drug delivery to patients. The study authors speculate that text messages do not require full attention as telephone calls do.
Possible Consequences of Calls to Nurses’ Phones in Pediatric Intensive Care Units
The key takeaway from the study is that telephone call interruptions are unavoidable. Yet, since they increase errors and therefore jeopardize patient lives, hospital policies should aim to reduce such distractions, especially when most patients receive their medications. There is no question that medication mistakes are one of the most common causes of patient injury. Approximately 7.5 million pediatric medication mistakes occur annually in the United States, with 14 to 31% leading to injury or death. In the PICU, patients are especially vulnerable, as many are in emergency care for life-threatening conditions like dangerous infections, burns, poisoning, trauma, and immunological disorders. They may also be in for, or recovering from, a long and complicated surgery.
A preventable medication error that causes a patient grave illness or death is often the source of medical malpractice. Despite the inevitability of telephone calls on the job, distracted nurses may be liable to pediatric patients that they injure with the wrong medication, dosage, or report. Giving a severely sick child a drug they do not need or cannot tolerate can lead to complications. First, the child lacks the medication they need to get well or survive; second, they receive unprescribed medicines that may cause adverse effects. Likewise, failing to report the correct medication and dosage that the pediatric patient received may lead to the child getting too little or too much medicine. The result is devastating. Medication errors due to avoidable distractions harm children with the least ability to fight off added injury.
Avoiding Errors in The PICU to Prevent Pediatric Patient Injuries
The PICU is a harried place, filled with stress and quick-changing providers intervening in patient management strategies. They serve the sickest pediatric patients. Since nurses spend the most time with their patients, they are critical to patient safety. As such, hospital hiring and staffing policies must help avoid medication error outcomes, given that nurses get distracted. Staffing enough nurses to reduce nurse-to-patient ratios is likely to reduce medication errors, especially among high-risk patients, like those in the PICU. Additionally, more oversight of less experienced nurses may reduce medication errors. No doubt, the PICU houses the most critically ill children with higher likelihood of long lists of medication prescriptions. This is all the more reason for a nurse’s undivided attention to tasks, such as administering weight-based medications that may include pain, respiratory, and heart medications. Since nurses can turn off their phones during medication administration hours, medication errors that occur shortly after an incoming telephone call are more likely preventable errors.
Holding Negligent Nurses and Hospitals Accountable
When a sick child suffers a preventable injury, the party responsible for avoiding such injury may be held liable for medical malpractice. One such party may be the hospital, which should have a cell phone policy for nurses administering medication. PICU patients who suffer injury from avoidable medication errors may claim damages against the nurses, hospitals, and others responsible for the errors that cause injuries. A pediatric malpractice claim seeks compensation for the medical, emotional, and financial losses a child and their parents experience due to injuries caused by another’s negligence. In essence, a lawsuit aims to cover a child’s past, present, and future losses and needs. As some children may have life-long requirements for medications, medical devices, and therapies due to the harm they suffered from a negligent healthcare provider, the costs to cover those needs may total millions of dollars.
Child Injured by a Distracted Nurse in NJ? We can Help
An inattentive nurse who caused a child injury, and the hospital that employs them, may be held accountable for contributing to patient injuries, among other parties involved in the child’s care during their stay. If your child suffered from any form of medical malpractice, you will need an experienced pediatric malpractice attorney to help you through the process of filing, preparing, negotiating, settling, or litigating the claim to recover the compensation your child deserves. You will need to know who, how, and when to sue to recover your child’s emergent needs and yours, as well as the long-term costs of their care. With this study confirming nurses’ distractions and conditions that lead to medication errors for pediatric patients, it is important to be aware that when these injuries impact your child due to nurse interruptions and other negligence, you have the opportunity to be heard and have justice served. Contact a well-versed pediatric malpractice attorney on our legal team in New Jersey at (866)-708-8617 to discuss your child’s case free of charge.