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Table 1 The four-step content analysis process

From: Medication errors as malpractice-a qualitative content analysis of 585 medication errors by nurses in Sweden

Meaning unit


Main category


Nurse finds an opened vial with sodium chloride solution on the tray “as it usually is” and injects 5 ml.

Later, two unopened vials of sodium chloride solution and one opened vial of potassium chloride solution are found on the tray.

Nurse found an opened vial of sodium chloride. “As it usually is.”

“No thought that it could be anything else”

Potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride

Medication error type

Wrong drug due to mix-up of drugs

“I read on the vial, but I didn’t notice what it said.”

“She didn’t notice of the small dose prescribed, but took it for granted that the patient should have an ordinary dose.”

“I totally forgot about the medication.”

Did not pay attention to the content of the text

Didn’t notice and took for granted

Forgot to give the medicine to the patient

Insufficient attention

Took for granted


Individual factor

Negligence, forgetfulness or lack of attentiveness

“I was alone and the medication administration must be done at all the wards at the same time”

Alone with all administration at the same time

To much work to perform in insufficient time

System factor

Role overload

  1. Table 1 shows examples of the four-step content analysis. After careful reading, the text was divided into meaning units, and then condensed. The codes were sorted into subcategories and main categories