While these seem like very obvious things, complacency is unfortunately something that leads to medical mistakes being made. In a busy practice, people are rushing around and multitasking.
These are some things that you must always do to avoid mistakes. These are to be reminders for you. Always be in the moment when you are performing a task at hand. Don’t be thinking about something else, as this will lead to errors and could even result in patient death.
- Know math. One major mistake vet techs (new graduates) make is drawing up incorrect doses of medication. For example, drawing up 0.6 mL of a medication instead of 0.06 mL of a medication. That is 10 times the dose! Pay very close attention to what is written on the chart or told to you. Pay attention to those zeros! If you see something that doesn’t appear correct on a patient’s chart or if you have questions, always ask the doctor. It is better to ask to make sure you have it right than to go on your own judgement if there is any doubt or you have confusion about quantities or syringe sizes.
- Prior to inducing anesthesia, always check the length of the endotracheal tube prior to intubation (this is critical especially in smaller patients). If you intubate pets in the practice where you work, make sure that the tube is properly measured and you don’t push it in too far. If the tube is in too far, the pulse ox will be low because only one side of the lungs will be ventilated. Get a pulse ox placed right away after the patient is anesthetized, and if there is any concern, get the doctor.
- Always double check medication to be given with the name (first and last) and breed on the chart and the cage card. All patients in the hospital should have a cage card with their full name. Make sure when you give a medication, it is to the correct patient! There may be 2 dogs that look very similar hospitalized at the same time, or dogs with the same name.
- Always double check medications 3 times before administration. Look at the chart, then the bottle of medication. Then the chart again. Draw up the medication. Look at the chart dose and the medication you drew up or have in your hand to confirm it is exactly as written and is the correct drug. If there is a question, or something seems off, ask a doctor before administering.
- Make sure pop-off valve is open ALWAYS! At our practice, we have a device to prevent the pop off being closed down, however, may practices still have machines on which the pop-off is manually closed (like when you are giving a breath or ventilating a patient). This is incredibly dangerous because if you forget to re-open it, or make sure it is open prior to anesthesia the patient can die.
- When you draw up anything in a syringe: LABEL IT! Never draw something up an assume you or someone else will know what is in it. Write on it with a sharpie or a piece of tape what is in it. Same with blood tubes- write the patient’s name on it at the time of the blood draw.
- Keep your phone off at work. Yes, I know. You may not think your phone can cause medical mistakes. But I can tell you that at several practices I have seen how distracted the vet techs are with their phones during work hours. Texting, social media, etc. during work hours when you are supposed to be focused on your patients is a huge NO. Phones have caused too much distraction in our society in general. Even if you aren’t on your phone in the moment, your brain is distracted by what you have been doing and seeing on your phone. Just don’t do it. Save it for your own time. Your patients and your boss will appreciate it.
Do you have any other suggestions or tips to help avoid medical mistakes? Share them in the comments below!