What is a Nursing Error?

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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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Nursing error refers to when a nurse gives a patient improper treatment, generally unintentionally. This can include giving the wrong medication or the wrong dosage of a medication, ormixing up paperwork like lab results and patient files. In many cases, nursing error is not even discovered if the patient does not have any adverse side effects or physical damages. Other times, lawsuits may occur in the event that the patient is harmed by the error made.

Most cases of nursing error are a direct result of understaffed hospitals and clinics. This means that there are too few nurses available to handle the number of patients coming in. Often, nurse shortages are due to funding issues because hospitals cannot afford to hire more nurses, and therefore must make do with the staff already on payroll.

At other times, nursing error is indirectly related to understaffing because nurses who are not trained to work in a specific department are allowed to work there anyway. Like physicians, many nurses continue with education to become specialized in an area of medicine like pediatrics or labor and delivery. A nurse who is not accustomed to working in a specialty may be more likely to make mistakes while caring for patients.


There are a few steps patients can take to help avoid nursing error and the negative consequences that may result. Emergency room (ER) visits should be reserved for a real medical emergency. This includes situations such as chest pains, shortness of breath, injuries like deep cuts or broken bones, and other potentially life-threatening situations. Other circumstances, such as testing for sexually transmitted diseases, cold symptoms, and minor sprains should be seen during regular business hours by a general practitioner. Exceptions include flu-like symptoms, fever, and severe vomiting or diarrhea in high-risk patients such as pregnant women and young children.

In some cases, nursing error may result in a lawsuit being filed against the offending nurse, hospital, or practice.Hospitals are forced to pay large sums of money in the case of a settlement or plaintiff victory, resulting in fewer funds being available to hire needed nurses. Health care workers also become wary of being sued, and may implement medical procedures that aren’t entirely necessary in order to increase the chances of having no complications. Both may result in a greater instance of nursing error.



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