Prescribing Drugs: Ethical and Legal Implications

Errors and accidents can happen in virtually any type of workplace. However, in the field of healthcare, a wrong action may lead to devastating outcomes, damaging patients or workers’ well-being. Thus, all medical professionals need to understand that the process of error reporting is an essential part of their practice (Anderson & Townsend, 2010; Arcangelo, Peterson, Wilbur, & Reinhold, 2017). In a scenario, where a nurse prescribes a wrong dose to a child, various concerns arise that may deter him/her from disclosing this information. This nurse may be afraid of receiving punishment or facing career challenges in the future. Nonetheless, it is a responsibility of the advanced practice nurse to follow a number of strategies to mitigate the error and make sure that it never happens again.

A situation in which a 5-year-old boy is prescribed a drug dose suitable for an adult has multiple implications for healthcare providers, the patient, and his family. By making this mistake, the prescriber fails to follow the ethics code for nurses which states that “nurses must protect the patient … from potential harm when practice appears to be impaired” (ANA, 2015, p. 13). Thus, this nurse has to receive a sufficient punishment according to legal procedures described in the regulations of the state where he/she practices. Pharmacists who receive a document with a wrong prescription may also be exposed to a similar process if one can show that they failed to notice a mistake and report it, although they had a chance to do that. The responsibility to protect patients concerns all healthcare providers (Pirinen et al., 2015).

The patient may suffer from this mistake as well. This boy’s health can be severely damaged if the prescribed drug’s dose affects his health. The error may result in some insignificant and easily treatable concerns or serious problems and even death. In addition, the patient’s family will also be exposed to some issues. The parents or caregivers may need to provide additional care to the boy, purchase new drugs or treatment options, visit more hospitals than they would if the error did not occur. They will face various ethical issues of having to treat the child for additional health issues. They can pursue legal action upon receiving information about the mistake.

Upon reviewing these implications, it becomes clear that error reporting should be regarded as a serious procedure to reduce future accidents. A nurse should engage the organization and the patient and do everything possible to mitigate the mistake’s consequences. The first strategy is to follow the institutional guidelines of the state and the hospital to report the error officially. This procedure may involve a written or verbal report to one’s superiors (ANA, 2015). This action should ensure that the information will reach other clinicians. The next strategy would be to disclose the nature of the error to the patient and his family as soon as possible. They are entitled to this knowledge as it is a part of safety and health protection rules for nurses (ANA, 2015). In the end, the nurse should respect the decision of the hospital and the patient’s family regarding the mistake.

Nurses should acknowledge that they have a responsibility to protect patients and provide them with the best care possible. Therefore, they should report their and others’ mistakes to create a safe environment where patients’ health is the central concern. Self-reporting should be devoid of a punishment-focused narrative which becomes a barrier to nurses being transparent and truthful about their actions. Nurses should also disclose all information to their patients to reduce the damages inflicted by errors.


American Nurses Association (ANA). (2015). Code of ethics for nurses with interpretive statements. Web.

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

Arcangelo, V. P., Peterson, A. M., Wilbur, V., & Reinhold, J. A. (Eds.). (2017). Pharmacotherapeutics for advanced practice: A practical approach (4th ed.). Ambler, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Pirinen, H., Kauhanen, L., Danielsson-Ojala, R., Lilius, J., Tuominen, I., Díaz Rodríguez, N., & Salanterä, S. (2015). Registered Nurses’ experiences with the medication administration process. Advances in Nursing, 2015. Web.