The Ethics and Legalities of Medication Error Disclosure

The Ethics and Legalities of Medication Error Disclosure


TheEthics and Legalities of Medication Error Disclosure

Medicalerrors may result in serious problems such as death of patients,nurses facing legal charges, or even a health facility being closed.Whenever a medical error has been made, regardless of whether theerror seems to have significant consequences or not, it is importantto consider disclosing the error. When errors are made during thewriting of a prescription, it is important to consider the ethical aswell as legal consequences of the error. Sometimes, a practitionermay fear to disclose an error due to its consequences, but it isalways critical to also consider the consequences of a non-disclosureand the resulting negative results (Philipsen &amp Soeken, 2011). Inthis report, ethical as well as legal implications of disclosure andnon-disclosure in regard to an error in prescription will bediscussed. Besides, process of writing prescription ad strategies ofminimizing medication errors will also be discussed.

Ethicaland Legal Implications of Disclosure and Nondisclosure

Inthe situation, where an error has been made during prescription,there are different legal and ethical implications of disclosure andnon-disclosure. Disclosure in a health care setting is consideredcritical because of the implications it would have, both ethicallyand legally. According to the rule of law, one can be charged becauseof causing harm to another person. Thus, in case one discloses anerror in prescription to a patient, the disclosure will help inpreventing the practitioner from facing legal liability. This isbecause the practitioner would have prevented harm from occurring tothe patient as a result of disclosing the error. Apart from the legalimplication, disclosure also has ethical implications.

Accordingto the code of ethics for nurses, it is important for nurses to actmorally to patients. In maintaining the nurse-patient relationship,it is critical for nurses to rely on the principles ofnon-maleficence, autonomy, fidelity, beneficence, and justice at alltimes. Thus, through disclosing to the patient that there was anerror in prescription, there would be a justification of the ethicalprinciples of doing good and avoiding harm to patients (Crigger &ampHolcomb, 2008). Besides, disclosure may sometimes lead to patientdistress. Some patients may have the notion that revealing errorsalready made may cause distress to them. In such a situation,patients may prefer not knowing the errors that occur. In this case,disclosure may affect the patients ethically since it may increasethe distress in patients, which implies more trouble or harm topatients.

Onthe other hand, by not disclosing a prescription error to thepatient, one is perceived to place his/her interests above those ofthe patient to the harm of the patient, thus violating apatient-focused ethic. Therefore, non-disclosure has ethicalimplications as it can cause harm to the patient. Besides,non-disclosure may have legal implication since a patient may feelobliged to seek legal compensation in case an error that occurred wasnot revealed and posed or caused injury to the patient. In Georgia,mandatory disclosure is required, which implies that a non-disclosuremay be considered unprofessional. In such a situation, non-disclosuremay lead to a practitioner’s certificate cancelled.

WhatI Would Do in the Scenario

Inthis scenario, as an advanced practice nurse, I would considerdisclosing the error to the patient upon realizing that I have madean error. The reason why I would consider revealing the error to thepatient is because as an APN, I should be guided by the ethicalprinciples of ensuring that the interests of a patient are alwaysabove personal interests (American Nurses Association, 2001).Disclosing the error to the patient will help in preventing any harmthat the patient may experience as a result of following theerroneous prescription. Besides, I would consider disclosing theerror to the patient in order to avoid facing legal liability in casethe patient opts to seek justice for poor outcomes, resulting fromprescription error.

WritingPrescription Process

Whenwriting prescription, it is important to ensure that the personwriting the prescription is conversant with state laws that provideinstructions for doing so. During the process, it is important forthe prescriber to give his/her information, patient’s information,date prescribed, superscription, inscription, subscription, andinformation to the pharmacist or the person dispensing drugs. It isalso important for the prescriber to append his/her signature. InGeorgia, the signature needs not to be tampered with. Besides, duringthe process of writing prescription, prescriber should ensure thathe/she complies with labeling, storage requirement, and packaging asprovided by the law.

Strategiesto Avoid Medical Errors

Thereare varied strategies that can be used in reducing medical errors.One such strategy entails ensuring that there is an optimum number ofnurses that would reduce the workload. A shortage in nurses may leadto heavy workloads, which may expose nurses to medical errorshowever, with a reduced workload emanating from a high number ofnurses, medical errors are mitigated (Anderson &amp Townsend, 2010).Another strategy that can be used in reducing medical errors entailschecking the environmental factors that lead to errors and attendingto them for example, distracters and inadequate light may be seen asenvironmental factors that can lead to medical errors.


Itis crucial to consider the implications resulting from disclosure andnon-disclosure of medical errors. Because of the negativeimplications that a non-disclosure of medical error may have onpatients as well as practitioners, it is always critical to considerdisclosing medical errors. From both legal and ethical implicationsof non-disclosure and disclosure, it is important for practitionersto consider disclosing errors to patients.


AmericanNurses Association. (2001). Code of ethics for nurses withinterpretive statements. Nursing World. Retrieved from

Anderson,P., &amp Townsend, T. (2010). Medication errors: Don’t let themhappen to you. American Nurse Today, 5(3), 23–28. Retrievedfrom

Arcangelo,V. P., &amp Peterson, A. M. (Eds.). (2013).Pharmacotherapeutics for advanced practice: A practical approach (3rded.).Ambler, PA: Lippincott Williams &amp Wilkins.

Crigger,N., &amp Holcomb, L. (2008). Improving nurse practitioner practicethrough rational prescribing. TheJournal for Nurse Practitioners,4(2), 120–125.

Philipsen,N. C., &amp Soeken, D. (2011). Preparing to blow the whistle: Asurvival guide for nurses. TheJournal for Nurse Practitioners,7(9), 740–746.