The Contribution of Staffing to Medication Administration Errors: A Text Mining Analysis of Incident Report Data

Marja Härkänen*, Katri Vehviläinen-Julkunen, Trevor Murrells, Jussi Paananen, Bryony D. Franklin, Anne M. Rafferty

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: (a) To describe trigger terms that can be used to identify reports of inadequate staffing contributing to medication administration errors, (b) to identify such reports, (c) to compare the degree of harm within incidents with and without those triggers, and (d) to examine the association between the most commonly reported inadequate staffing trigger terms and the incidence of omission errors and “no harm” terms. Design and Setting: This was a retrospective study using descriptive statistical analysis, text mining, and manual analysis of free text descriptions of medication administration–related incident reports (N = 72,390) reported to the National Reporting and Learning System for England and Wales in 2016. Methods: Analysis included identifying terms indicating inadequate staffing (manual analysis), followed by text parsing, filtering, and concept linking (SAS Text Miner tool). IBM SPSS was used to describe the data, compare degree of harm for incidents with and without triggers, and to compare incidence of “omission errors” and “no harm” among the inadequate staffing trigger terms. Findings: The most effective trigger terms for identifying inadequate staffing were “short staffing” (n = 81), “workload” (n = 80), and “extremely busy” (n = 51). There was significant variation in omission errors across inadequate staffing trigger terms (Fisher’s exact test = 44.11, p <.001), with those related to “workload” most likely to accompany a report of an omission, followed by terms that mention “staffing” and being “busy.” Prevalence of “no harm” did not vary statistically between the trigger terms (Fisher’s exact test = 11.45, p = 0.49), but the triggers “workload,” “staffing level,” “busy night,” and “busy unit” identified incidents with lower levels of “no harm” than for incidents overall. Conclusions: Inadequate staffing levels, workload, and working in haste may increase the risk for omissions and other types of error, as well as for patient harm. Clinical Relevance: This work lays the groundwork for creating automated text-analytical systems that could analyze incident reports in real time and flag or monitor staffing levels and related medication administration errors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-123
Number of pages11
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020


  • Incident report
  • medication administration
  • staffing
  • text mining


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