Improving patient safety through education: how visual recognition skills may reduce medication errors on surgical wards

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Christopher R. Davis *
Edward C. Toll
Paul M. Bevis
Helena P. Burden
(*) Corresponding Author:
Christopher R. Davis |


Medication errors compromise patient safety and cost £500m per annum in the UK. Patients who forget the name of their medication may describe the appearance to the doctor. Nurses use recognition skills to assist in safe administration of medications. This study quantifies healthcare professionals’ accuracy in visually identifying medications. Members of the multidisciplinary team were asked to identify five commonly prescribed medications. Mean recognition rate (MRR) was defined as the percentage of correct responses. Dunn’s multiple comparison tests quantified inter-professional variation. Fifty-six participants completed the study (93% response rate). MRRs were: pharmacists 61%; nurses 35%; doctors 19%; physiotherapists 11%. Pharmacists’ MRR were significantly higher than both doctors and physiotherapists (P<0.001). Nurses’ MRR was statistically comparable to pharmacists (P>0.05). The majority of healthcare professionals cannot accurately identify commonly prescribed medications on direct visualization. By increasing access to medication identification resources and improving undergraduate education and postgraduate training for all healthcare professionals, errors may be reduced and patient safety improved.

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