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Even if the policy is no punishment if filled out properly, can error reports someday be harmful to my career?

Friday November 16, 2012
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Dear Nancy,

No matter how small the error, our company requires that we fill out medication error reports. Policy is that there will be no punishment if we fill out the report, call the physician and director of nursing and do everything we can to make sure no preventable harm came to the patient after the error. After reading my nurse practice act, I wonder if filling out these reports can someday come back to hurt us.


Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Fabia,

Your description of the "medication error reports" sounds like incident/occurrence reports that have been in existence for a long, long time. Incident/occurrence reports, like your medication error reports, are important for the facility to know about in order to continue to reduce the risk of harm to patients (in this case, medication errors) that may result in injury or death to a patient.

The reports probably go to your risk management department and are carefully evaluated to determine if changes need to be made in regard to the administration of medications. As examples, it may be that certain aspects of the medication administration process are not being followed and that an in-service needs to be done for nursing staff. Or it may be that the current policy for verbal orders needs to be changed.

The nonpunitive approach to medication errors and other incidents that involve patient care reported to risk management is the best way to handle such incidents. It also provides a preventive view toward those incidents so they can be rectified as soon as possible.

It is unclear what your connection to the state nurse practice act and the reporting of the medication errors within the facility is. Perhaps speaking about this concern, and specifically how the reports are used, with your chief nursing officer and your risk management director might help dispel your fears.


Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Wilmette, Ill. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or any other advice. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.