Recommendations and low-technology safety solutions following neuromuscular blocking agent incidents

Linda V. Graudins, Glenn Downey, Thuy Bui, Michael J. Dooley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Neuromuscular blocking agents (NMBs) are high-risk medications used to facilitate endotracheal intubation and artificial ventilation. In an incident at a metropolitan tertiary referral and teaching public hospital in Australia, a neurosurgical patient became unresponsive at the start of surgery. It was determined that cisatracurium was administered in error in place of midazolam; the patient was ventilated and the emergency surgery continued. Two additional non-operating room (OR) drug-swap cases involving cisatracurium were reported within 12 months of this event, resulting in a comprehensive review of NMB safety. 

Methods: A root cause analysis (RCA) resulted in multiple interventions to decrease the risk of selection and administration errors: (1) review of NMB packaging and introduction of in-house NMB labeling by pharmacy procurement staff before distribution; (2) implementation of a medication administration in anesthetics guideline with ongoing education; (3) audit of storage with removal of NMBs; (4) review of new products by medication safety pharmacists and a senior anesthetist before distribution; and (5) use of red-barrel syringes for administering NMBs was expanded to all areas using NMBs to minimize syringe-swap incidents. 

Results: In the four years since full implementation of interventions, there have been no reports of cisatracurium selection errors. An incident of atracurium administration resulted in further recommendations for review of OR cart storage. Ongoing monitoring via medication safety walkrounds, by OR staff, by the perioperative pharmacist, and through the hospital's medication incident monitoring system has not detected any further NMB incidents. 

Conclusions: Technological solutions have been shown to decrease the risk of NMB errors, yet multifaceted low-technology solutions may be an effective, cheaper alternative.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)86-91
Number of pages6
JournalThe Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016

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