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Medication errors occur when a drug has been inappropriately prescribed, dispensed, or administered. Medication errors are a multifaceted problem which may occur in any health care setting. Consistent with their common mission to promote and protect the welfare of the people of Texas, the Board of Nurse Examiners and the Board of Pharmacy issued this joint statement for the purpose of increasing awareness of some of the factors which contribute to medication errors. The Boards note that there are numerous publications available which examine the many facets of this problem, and agree that all elements must be examined in order to identify and successfully correct the problem. This position paper has been jointly developed because the Boards acknowledge the interdisciplinary nature of medication errors and the variety of settings in which these errors may occur. These settings may include hospitals, community pharmacies, doctors' offices/clinics, long term care facilities, clients' homes, and other locations.

Traditionally, medication errors have been attributed to the individual practitioner. However, reports such as the recently published Institute of Medicine's To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System, suggest the majority of medical errors do not result from individual recklessness, but from basic flaws in the way the health system is organized. It is the joint position of the Boards that a comprehensive and varied approach is necessary to reduce the occurrence of errors. The Boards agree that the comprehensive approach includes three major elements: (1) the individual professional's knowledge of practice; (2) resources available to the professional; and (3) systems designs, problems and failures. Each of these three elements of this comprehensive approach are discussed below:

Professional competence has long been targeted as a source of health care professional errors. To reduce the probability of errors, all professionals must accept only those assignments for which they have the appropriate education and which they can safely perform. Professionals must continually expand their knowledge and remain current in their speciality, as well as be alerted to new medications, technologies and procedures in their work settings. Professionals must be able to identify when they need assistance, and then seek appropriate instruction and clarification. Professionals should evaluate strengths and weaknesses in their practice and strive to improve performance. This ultimate accountability on the part of individual practitioners is a critical element in reducing the incidence of medication errors.

The second element (resources available to all professionals) centers on the concept of team work and the work environment. The team should be defined as all health care personnel within any setting. Health care professionals must not be reluctant to seek out and utilize each other as resources. This is especially important for the new professional and/or the professional in transition. Taking the time to learn about the resources available in any practice setting is the individual professional's responsibility, and can help decrease the occurrence of medication errors. Adequate staffing and availability of experienced professionals are key factors in the delivery of safe effective medication therapy. In addition, health care organizations have the responsibility to develop complete and thorough orientation for all employees, maintain adequate and updated policies and procedures as guidelines for practice and offer relevant opportunities for continuing staff development.

Analysis of the third element (systems designs, problems and failures) may demand creative and/or innovative thinking specific to each setting as well as a commitment to guarantee client safety. Systems which may have been in place for a long period of time may need to be re-examined for effectiveness. New information and technological advances must always be taken into account and input should be solicited from all professionals. In addition, the system should contain a comprehensive quality program for the purpose of detecting and preventing problems and failures. The quality program must encourage all health care professionals to be alert for problems encountered in their daily tasks and to advocate for changes when necessary. In addition, the quality program should include a method for reporting of all errors and problems within the system, a system for tracking and analysis of the errors, and interdisciplinary review of the incident(s). Eliminating systems problems is vital in promoting optimal performance.

The table following the text of this statement, while not an exhaustive list, specifies areas which can be reviewed when medication errors occur. These areas encompass all three of the aforementioned contributing elements to the problem of medication errors and can be applied to individuals or systems. Communication is a common thread basic to all of these factors. Effective verbal or written communication is fundamental to successfully resolving breakdowns, either individual or system wide, that frequently contribute to medication errors.

The Boards agree that health care regulatory entities must remain focused on public safety. It is imperative that laws and rules are relevant to today's practice environment and that appropriate mechanisms are in place to address medication errors. The complex nature of the problem requires that there be a comprehensive approach to reducing these errors. It is vital to the public welfare that medication errors be identified, addressed, and reduced.

Documentation/Communication Table

Table 2


  • Institute of Medicine. (1999). To err is human: Building a safer health system. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
  • Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. (1999). High-alert medications and patient safety. Sentinel Event Alert, [On-line]. Available: jcaho.org/edu_pub/sealert/sea11.html.
  • Leape, L. L. (1994). Error in medicine. Journal of the American Medical Association, 272(23), 1851-1857.
  • Nursing Practice Act, Texas Occupations Code, §§301 and 303.
  • Texas Pharmacy Act, Texas Occupations Code, §§551 - 566.