Distracted Nurses in Pediatric Intensive Care Unit

We are aware of the dangers of distracted driving.  But there’s now evidence that distracted medical care – caregivers providing treatment while using their cell phones – is harming young patients.

Medication mistakes are a serious and common type of medical error.  They are highly preventable. A new study shows how cell phone use among nurses can lead to errors while administering drugs to pediatric patients.

The study (“Association Between Mobile Telephone Interruptions and Medication Administration Errors in a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit”) was published online in December 2019 by JAMA Pediatrics.  It included 257 nurses working in a hospital pediatric intensive care unit caring for 3,308 young children during the 12 months of the research period.

Distracting Cell Phone Calls to Nurses

Researchers looked at how or if incoming text messages and cell phone calls to nurses affected medical care given by the nurses. The communications were limited to those received by the nurses within 10 minutes of administering medication to children.

Other factors weighed in the study were:

·         Experience by the pediatric ICU nurses

·         Work shifts – day versus night – o the pediatric ICU nurses

·         Ratio of nurse to pediatric ICU patients

·         Level of care required by the pediatric ICU patients

From August 2016 to September 2017, the nurses gave 238,540 doses of medicine.  Researchers found a total medication error rate of 3.1% when nurses were not distracted by incoming cell phone calls.

But when the nurses did receive a call within 10 minutes of drug administration to patients, the error rate jumped to 3.7%.

Mistakes Made by Inexperienced ICU Nurses

In general, less-experienced nurses were more liable to make medication errors after being interrupted by cell phones.  The medication error rate went up for nurses with less than six months experience versus their more experienced counterparts for both the day shift and the night shift.

But regardless of experience, the rate of medication errors were higher for nurses for on the night shift compared to those working during the day.

Nurses distracted by cell phone administering drugs to patients who were receiving serious medical treatment – mechanical ventilation and arterial catheterization – while also treating at least one other pediatric patient were at increased risk for making a medication error. This is also regardless of the amount of experience in the pediatric ICU.

The researchers noted that incoming texts did not significantly lead to medication errors; cell phone calls were most responsible for mistakes uncovered.

The researchers concluded that hospitals have a role to play in reducing this type of medication errors.  Administrators, while not being able to completely eliminate distractions during serious medical care, should work to reduce them.

Treatment provided in hospital intensive care units typically require the full attention of medical care staff.  Patients – especially pediatric patients – should not suffer from mistakes due to preventable interruptions, such as cell phone calls.

If you had a family member who died or experienced serious injuries while undergoing medical treatment, an avoidable mistake during care may have been made.  An experienced medical malpractice lawyer can investigate on your behalf and hold accountable all those responsible.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C., posted in Blog January 10, 2020