Sample Nursing Paper on Medical Errors: An Ongoing Threat to Quality Health Care

According a recent study by Johns Hopkins, medical errors is currently ranked third among the leading causes of death in the U.S. surpassing diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and strokes. It is believed that one out of every seven Medicare patients who receive care in hospitals across the U.S. fall victim to medical errors. In addition to hospitals, medical errors can occur in a variety of healthcare settings, such as clinics, medical offices, clinics, nursing homes, surgery centers, patients’ homes, and pharmacies. Common medical error types across healthcare settings include those related to anesthesia, medication errors, missed or delay in diagnosis, hospital acquired infections, inadequate follow-up after treatment or lack thereof, avoidable delay in treatment, failure to act on test results, inadequate monitoring after a medical procedure or lack thereof, and technical medical errors. These medical errors can be attributed to various factors, such as communication problems, inadequate information flow, human problems, patient-related issues, issues in organizational transfer of knowledge, poor or inadequate staffing and workflow, technical failures, inadequate policies, and others. Medical errors affect patient safety as they can result in severe physical injury or even death to patients. They can also cause severe psychological, financial, and emotional stress to the patient, family or relatives, and the health care organization as a whole.

Literature Review

Attention to medical errors in recent years has seen a surge in studies on the issue. The focus of these studies is to establish the causes, consequences, and ways that can help to prevent medical errors in healthcare settings. A study by Bari, Khan, & Rathore (2016) extensively explores the issue of medical errors with a focus on cause, consequence, emotional response, and resulting behavioral change. Bari et al. (2016) contends that medical errors are largely inevitable and can have adverse impacts on various stakeholders in healthcare including patients, doctors providing treatment, nursing staff, and the health organizations as well. A big step in preventing medical errors and that which would ensure that patients are safe from accidental injury is the establishment of safe health care systems. The study by Bari et al. (2016) notes that human-related medical errors are generally underreported hence little is known regarding their causes and consequences. The study’s key findings revolve around the causes of medical errors in healthcare settings. It associates medical errors to personal emotional distress among trainees in healthcare settings; fatigue or tiredness influenced by long working hours; the lack of experience and inadequate supervision of junior staff by seniors; and poor communication among staff in healthcare settings. Additionally, despite the surge in medical errors and their adverse effects, healthcare staff are hardly taught how to disclose medical errors once they occur. A good number of staff prefer using the informal way of disclosing information about medical errors, such as telling trusted people. Bari et al. (2016) argue that the medical profession must develop disclosure guidelines to ensure adequate and accurate disclosure of information related to medical errors whenever they occur.

A study by Gaffney, Hatcher, Milligan, & Trickey (2016) also delves on the issue of medical errors common in healthcare settings. Gaffney et al. (2016) argues that prevention of medical errors is a way of enhancing patient safety and nurses have a role to play in this regard. Although making healthcare safer is a national and global objective, little progress has been made with regard to reducing the medical error rate across healthcare settings. Gaffney et al. (2016) define medical errors as actions that fail to meet the desirable outcomes in the medical context. The authors posit tat nurses have a key role to play in medical error prevention and recovery through identification, interruption, and correction of medical errors. These actions would play a key role in mitigating patient harm in the medical error recovery process. According to Gaffney et al. (2016), medical errors are caused by a number of factors including technical, human, and organizational failures. Adequate system defenses can go a long way in helping to prevent medical errors.

Ethical Concerns

As discussed above, nurses play a key role in addressing medical errors that are commonplace in today’s healthcare settings. There are ethical concerns with regard to nurses’ role in addressing medical errors. The American Nurses Association (ANA) has a Code of Ethics with nine key provisions on the ethical obligations and duties of nurses in addressing various issues in nursing care including medical errors. One of the provisions that ought to be considered when addressing this problem is Provision 3 that states, “the nurse promotes, advocates for, and protects the rights, health, and safety of the patient” (American Nurses Association, 2001). This provision highlights the need to promote patients’ safety, which can best be achieved by addressing medical errors in healthcare settings. Provision 2 states that “the nurse’s primary commitment is to the patient, whether an individual, family, group, community, or population” (American Nurses Association, 2001). This provision emphasizes the need to prioritize and commit to the patient as well as family or community. By addressing medical errors, nurses prevent adverse effects of the same not only on patients but also their family or community.


Provision 2 mainly covers nurses’ primary commitment to the patient. These professionals can apply this provision to address the medical error problem by using clinical reasoning and decision-making with a focus on creating optimal outcomes for patients and their families or communities. Healthcare settings are mandated to help nurses in creating optimal outcomes by facilitating the removal of self-imposed barriers to practice while creating an environment that allows nurses to draw upon their training and education to deliver optimal care to patients (Huston, 2020). Nurses can apply Provision 3 to address the problem of medical errors by identifying, interrupting, and correcting medical errors. Through these actions, nurses would help to protect patients’ rights, health, and safety all of which are highlighted in the provision.


Medical errors are ranked the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and globally. These mistakes are inevitable and can have adverse effects, particularly on patient safety. increased attention to medical errors in recent years has seen a surge in research on the issue. Despite the focus on averting medical errors, little progress has been made with regard to reducing the medical errors rate across healthcare settings. To address the problem, healthcare stakeholders must understand its primary causes, such as personal emotional distress among healthcare staff, fatigue or tiredness due to long working hours, lack of experience or inadequate supervision of junior staff, and poor communication amongst staff. Key recommendations for practice with regard to the problem include teaching healthcare staff how to disclose medical errors whenever they occur, developing disclosure guidelines to help healthcare staff, and being supportive and nonjudgmental to healthcare staff and patients whenever medical errors occur.




American Nurses Association (ANA). (2001). Code of Ethics for Nurses, American Nurses Association, Washington, D.C.

Bari, A., Khan, R. A., & Rathore, A. W. (2016). Medical errors; causes, consequences, emotional response and resulting behavioral change. Pakistan journal of medical sciences32(3), 523.

Gaffney, T. A., Hatcher, B. J., Milligan, R., & Trickey, A. (2016). Enhancing patient safety: factors influencing medical error recovery among medical-surgical nurses. OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing21(3), 1-13.

Huston, C. J. (2020). Professional issues in nursing: challenges and opportunities (5th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer.