Distraction and interruptions a problem for nurses

Nurse Toby Hilton wears one of the new "Do Not Disturb" vests while preparing medication at Christchurch Hospital, brought in to help prevent mistakes.

For most people, distractions and interruptions while they’re working are inevitable – but for nurses handling medications, being distracted at the wrong time could prove deadly for their patients.

Canterbury District Health Board staff are holding a series of workshops and studies looking at hospital medication processes, and things that cause problems or lead to mistakes.

They plan to use what they learn in the rebuild and redesign of hospital buildings in Christchurch, in an effort to make them safer and run more effectively.

CDHB projects nurse co-ordinator Yvonne Williams said distractions and interruptions were one of the biggest problems nurses had pointed out in the workshops last month.

An Australian study found nurses preparing or administering medication were about 12 per cent more likely to make a mistake if they were interrupted during the process – and after multiple interruptions, the risk of making a major error doubled.

“Our nurses doing medications get interrupted a lot, and we know every interruption can lead to an error,” Ms Willams said.

“So we’re looking at ways we can work with staff to make things better for them and safer, and reduce the number of errors that occur,” she said.

She said some of the suggestions being looked at were simple, like “do not disturb” vests that nurses could wear while working with medicines, or making sure all equipment needed was stored in the same place.

Others involved the design of the new wards, around where medication rooms were placed and how they were laid out.

The new electronic systems being rolled out throughout the hospital could help in some ways – like sending alarms and alerts when things were missed – but it threw up its own challenges, she said.

Ms Williams said workshops were held last month with about 30 staff from the child health department, and staff from other areas would be involved progressively over the next several months.