Background: Vulnerabilities in the medication manage ment process can lead to serious patient harm. In intensive care units (ICUs), nurses represent the last line of defense against medication errors. Proactive risk assessment (PRA) offers methods for determining how processes can break down and how people involved in such processes can contribute to or recover from a breakdown. Such methods can also be used to identify ICU nurses' contribution to the quality and safety of medication management.
Methods: Observation and interview data of ICU nurses work were used to develop a rich description of the nursing medication management process. A PRA method was conducted in a cardiovascular ICU to identify and evaluate failure modes in the nursing medication management process. The contributing factors to the failure modes and the recovery processes used by nurses were also characterized.
Results: A total of 54 failure modes were identified across the seven steps of the medication management process. For the 5 most critical failure modes, nurses listed 21 contributing factors and 21 recovery processes. Ways were identified to redesign the medication management process, one of which consists of dealing with work system factors that contribute to the most critical failure modes.
Conclusions: From a data-analysis viewpoint, this PRA method permits one to address a variety of objectives. Different scoring methods can be used to focus on either frequency or criticality of failure modes; one may also focus on a specific step of the process under study. Efforts in eliminating or mitigating contributing factors would help reduce the criticality of the failure modes in terms of their likelihood and impact on patients and/or nurses. Developing systems to support the recovery processes used by nurses may be another approach to process redesign.