The Ethics and Legalities of Medication Error Disclosure Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Medication Error Disclosure: Ethical Implications

Although making mistakes may be an inevitable fact of life, when nurses make errors in regards to medications, they have an obligation to report the error. From a deontological ethical perspective, the fact that the consequences of the error were minor or nonexistent is irrelevant. The existence of error is still significant in highlighting some failure, either in the administering advance practice nurse’s preparation and use of standardized operating procedures, or the procedures themselves. From the point-of-view of professional ethics, reporting errors has a vital role in preventing future errors from occurring. This should be at the forefront of the nurse’s mind, not protecting her own reputation or that of the institutions’ reputation.

According to Wolf & Hughes (2008), “reporting potentially harmful errors” should encompass all errors including “that were intercepted before harm was done, errors that did not cause harm, and near-miss errors is as important as reporting the ones that do harm patients” (par.2). The individual who commits the error is seldom, for self-interested reasons, the best person to determine whether an error is serious or not. When intercepted errors reveal critical deficits in the institution’s standardized operating procedures as well as issues with the nurse’s own actions, this can be used to prevent more serious consequences from occurring later.

Ethical and Legal Implications of Disclosure and Nondisclosure

Reporting all errors is consistent with the core principles of medical ethics which govern the behavior of all providers. Patient autonomy is compromised when they cannot be certain if they are being given the right medication in the right dosage. Additionally, “Fidelity, beneficence, and nonmaleficence are all principles that orient reporting and disclosure policies” (Wolf & Hughes, 2008, par.8). Providers are often under pressure not to disclose errors that have no immediate repercussions to protect the reputation of the institution but greater trust is ultimately fostered when there is an honest relationship between provider and patient. The principle of doing what is best for the patient and doing no harm is not congruent with attempting to cover up errors. The idea that the provider knows best in terms of what the patient should or should not know is profoundly paternalistic and runs counter to the principles of modern Western medicine (Chamberlain et al., 2012).

In traditional medical parlance, it should be noted that the definition of error is not accorded based upon the degree of harm, but the degree of deviation from a set standard. This is a critical aspect of evidence-based medicine, that “error is defined as a failure in the process of delivering medical care, without considering the outcome” (Chamberlain et al., 2012, par.2). But it is important to note that a single provider…

Sources Used in Document:


Chamberlain, C., Koniaris, L., Wu, A., & Pawlik T. (2012). Disclosure of “nonharmful” medical errors and other events duty to disclose. Archives of Surgery, 147(3):282–286. doi:10.1001/archsurg.2011.1005

Sorrell, J.M. (2017). Ethics: Ethical issues with medical errors: Shaping a culture of safety in Healthcare. OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 22(2). DOI: 10.3912/OJIN.Vol22No02EthCol01

Wolf, Z. & Hughes, R. (2008). Error reporting and disclosure. NIH. Retrieved from:

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