Nurses report fewer errors

February 1, 1999

Pharmaceutical Representative

Hospital-based registered nurses report that fewer patients are being harmed by medical errors than was the case 10 years ago.

Hospital-based registered nurses report that fewer patients are being harmed by medical errors than was the case 10 years ago, according to a survey published in the November issue of RN magazine.

In a survey of 743 randomly selected nurses, 67% said they were not aware of any patients who had been harmed due to incompetence, physician errors or nurse errors during the month prior to the survey. In 1988, only 59% of nurses said the same.

Furthermore, 78% reported that they knew of no dangerous errors committed by unlicensed assistant personnel during the month preceding the survey.

However, when errors did occur, more nurses said they chose not to report the events to their supervisors.

Twenty-six percent of respondents said they knew of at least one physician error or incompetence that had resulted in harm to a patient, but they did not report it. Another 23% of respondents said they knew of a patient being harmed by a nurse's error but did not report it.

In 1988, the percentage of nurses who failed to report physicians' errors or incompetencies was 22%.

The percentage of nurses who failed to report serious errors made by nurses was 17% in 1988.

Why aren't nurses reporting errors as often as they used to?

Fear of reprimand or dismissal or lack of institutional support are two reasons, according to Marianne Mattera, the magazine's editor. State law does little to protect nurses who "blow the whistle" on physicians or nursing peers. Only Kentucky, Minnesota and New Jersey have laws that protect nurses from retaliation by an employer for reporting care that endangers patients.

RN magazine, a sister publication of Pharmaceutical Representative, has conducted its nursing ethics survey since 1988. PR