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Using ethnography (or qualitative methods) to investigate medication errors: a critique of a published study.

By Gerry R. Armitage and Ian J. Hodgson


NoThe effects of drug errors and any consequent adverse events frequently impact on patients, their relatives and professional carers. Furthermore, the financial cost to the National Health Service is considerable (DoH, 2000; DoH, 2001; DoH, 2004). In a study of two London teaching hospitals, Vincent et al. (2001) found that 10% of patients are exposed to an adverse event, which adds a mean 8.5 days to their hospital stay. Drug errors are recurrently reported to account for between 10 and 20% of all adverse events (DoH, 2004). \ud \ud In response to Department of Health policy, NHS trusts are changing their approach to the management of error to encourage more reporting. The emphasis is on openness and support, and individual and organisational learning rather than blame. Research designed to increase a knowledge of the aetiology and context of drug errors should be carefully constructed and include qualitative methods which, if implemented according to established convention, can reflect the approaches described above. \ud \ud This paper will critique a recently published study that focused on nursing practice and was, in our view, inappropriately described as ethnographic. The study undoubtedly adds to the body of existing knowledge about drug errors and, crucially, if the study contributes to improved patient safety, it must, fundamentally, be valued. Nevertheless, some qualitative research conventions were broken and, as such, it is suggested, some opportunities for a broader understanding and for learning may have been lost. The critique will lead to a range of recommendations about future qualitative studies in this research domain which, it is argued, could produce a fuller picture of the context, culture and, perhaps, even the cause of error

Topics: Medication/drug, Administration error, Qualitative methods
Year: 2009
DOI identifier: 10.1177/136140960400900509
OAI identifier:
Provided by: Bradford Scholars
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