September 17 is World Patient Safety Day, an annual event the World Health Organization (WHO) promotes to raise awareness about patient safety and reduce patient harm, as well as increase public engagement in healthcare safety practices. The theme changes each year, but one thing remains certain: patient safety is more important now than ever.
Read on to find out why.
Patient safety is more important than ever
Healthcare systems continue to become more complex due to the sheer number and diversity of tasks involved in the delivery of patient care. Among these interacting factors, according to the WHO, are:
- The dependency of healthcare providers on one another
- The diversity of patients, providers, and other staff
- The nature of relationships between patients, caregivers, providers, support staff, administrators, family, and community members
- Patients’ vulnerability
- Variations in the physical layout of medical environments
- Variability in or lack of regulations
- The implementation of new technology
- The diversity of care pathways and organizations involved
- The increased specialization of healthcare professionals
Two examples of how parts of a system can increase the complexity of delivering safe patient care are the increased specialization of providers and the advent of electronic health record systems (EHRs). Specialization creates a path for more effective, targeted treatments and services—but also opens the door for more errors to occur across the care continuum. EHRs have given clinicians faster, more accurate access to patient records at the point of care to maximize efficiency in healthcare—yet they’re costly, vulnerable to hacking, and famously have contributed to doctors’ professional dissatisfaction.
The increased complexity of health systems makes it all too easy for patients to slip through the cracks and for safety to be compromised.
According to the WHO, adverse events caused by unsafe healthcare are likely one of the 10 leading causes of death and disability in the world. Studies have found that as many as 4 in 10 patients are harmed in primary and outpatient healthcare settings, and up to 80% of that harm is preventable. Not only do these medical errors pose a serious risk to patient outcomes, but they also have significant financial effects as well.
Patient safety is often part of a feedback loop that includes healthcare providers and staff: the safer healthcare providers and staff are, the less likely they are to make patient errors—and fewer errors translates to better overall patient outcomes. This has been particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has placed an unsustainable strain on the overall healthcare system.
Keeping providers and staff safe is key to not only reducing patient safety errors and adverse events, but also ensuring that providers and staff are able to continue caring for patients until the current pandemic is safely behind us. As many providers have pointed out, when it comes to COVID-19, patient safety also means community safety.
How government, healthcare organizations can work together
There are a multitude of patient safety challenges worldwide, but in the United States, one acute problem is staffing, and in particular an ongoing nursing shortage. With healthcare organizations struggling to find qualified candidates to meet their healthcare workforce needs, it’s more important than ever for lawmakers and organizations to implement strategies that can help reduce or prevent nurse burnout.
National Nurses United has called for federal legislation that would regulate nurse-to-patient ratios to ensure nurses aren’t overworked. Proponents of the legislation argue that reducing the burden on nurses will reduce errors and oversights that can contribute to medication errors and other adverse events that jeopardize patient safety. Another key focus is workplace violence prevention, which would require healthcare organizations to develop and implement plans to reduce workplace violence incidents.
Another option is to strengthen worldwide government mandates regarding healthcare quality. While some guidelines and requirements do exist at the national level, in the U.S. many are in effect only at the state level, which creates a significant amount of variance in quality standards. Many who favor enhanced federal guidelines believe that by standardizing quality expectations, we can improve the continuity and overall quality of our healthcare system.
Resources for patients and healthcare staff
While proposed legislation such as the mandates for federal healthcare guidelines mentioned above would go a long way toward protecting patient safety, it’s unlikely to happen overnight. In the meantime, there are resources available to patients and healthcare staff to help keep patient safety at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
The Patient Safety Movement was founded in 2012 with a goal of achieving zero preventable patient harm and death across the globe by 2030. To help achieve that goal, the foundation offers tools for patients to educate themselves about how healthcare organizations work, how to effectively advocate for themselves or loved ones, and how to ensure staff and providers have all the information necessary to keep them safe.
The foundation’s web site gives patients opportunities to share their stories and compare experiences, and provides resources, such as the ProPublica Surgeon Scorecard, patients can use to identify providers and organizations with good safety records.
For healthcare providers and staff
Healthcare providers and staff have a vast array of patient safety resources available to them—including within their own organizations. Providers can also access online resources to ensure their clinical decisions are in line with the most current standards and methodology.
Staff and providers can also find patient safety guidelines and information through the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and The Joint Commission offers suggestions on how providers and staff can streamline their workflow to avoid oversights that often lead to patient safety issues.
4 Key roles for technology in patient safety
Technology is the driving force behind healthcare innovation. But in many cases, healthcare organizations haven’t taken advantage of all the ways it can be used to improve patient safety and reduce preventable medical errors. Here are some of the most important ways technology can support an increased focus on reducing patient safety incidents and improving overall outcomes.
1. Improved communication and increased access to information
Effective communication goes a long way toward reinforcing patient safety and avoiding adverse events and healthcare incidents—not just among providers, but between providers and staff, and providers and patients as well. Technology solutions streamline and simplify patient records and orders so everyone involved in patient care has visibility into how the patient is being treated.
In addition, technology makes it easier for providers and staff to spot potential red flags before they occur, such as previous adverse reactions to certain medications or potential drug interactions.
2. Reduced medication errors
Medication errors are among the most common mistakes in healthcare, and they are a big reason why 25 states have implemented or will soon implement laws requiring providers to electronically prescribe controlled substances. Medication errors can occur due to numerous failures, but many of them stem from human error: poor handwriting or incorrect transcription, providers accidentally writing down the wrong medication, wrong route or dose, or the wrong frequency.
Ordering errors account for nearly 50% of all medication errors, and technology helps reduce those errors by providing a layer of automated oversight that forces providers to double-check the accuracy of their orders before they are submitted. EHRs can also be configured to automatically flag medication orders that have the potential to interact with other prescriptions or are not indicated as a treatment for the patient’s diagnosis.
3. Better diagnostic accuracy
Studies have shown that the longer patients stay at a healthcare facility, the more likely they are to experience an adverse event such as a drug reaction or a hospital-acquired infection. Therefore, one of the easiest ways to protect patient safety is to ensure patients are properly diagnosed from the outset.
Technology has made a huge impact in this regard. Diagnostic technology is constantly improving, and some studies have shown that cutting-edge artificial intelligence diagnostic tools could potentially diagnose disease faster and with greater accuracy than physicians.
4. Incident/error reporting and analytics
Healthcare incidents and adverse events that pose a risk to patient safety are often avoidable—if they are properly reported, analyzed, and addressed. Unfortunately, in many cases, patient errors go unreported (and therefore uncorrected): the Harvard Medical Practice Study found that more than 90% of errors resulting in adverse events were considered preventable.
Errors go unreported for many reasons, but a key contributing factor is that there is often no clear guidance for what constitutes an error or near-miss within a healthcare organization. In addition, the process for reporting errors can be time-consuming and difficult for providers and others to navigate.
When used effectively, technology can help healthcare organizations and leaders develop standards for reporting adverse events, errors, and near-misses to ensure everyone is on the same page. The right technology can also provide in-depth analytics regarding safety reports and incidents, enabling leaders to spot the problem areas and create and implement a plan to address them.
How symplr addresses patient safety issues
At symplr, we understand the value of patient safety to healthcare organizations, leaders, providers, and staff, and we create solutions to help your organization reach its patient safety objectives. Here are just some of the ways our technology can help.
If your organization or facility is understaffed or improperly staffed, you could be creating more work for your employees—and the greater their workload, the more likely it is for errors to occur. symplr offers workforce management solutions that help organizations maximize their accuracy and efficiency by having the right providers and staff for your patients’ needs, reducing the risk of overwork and minimizing opportunities for errors to occur.
Visitor and vendor management
COVID-19 highlighted how important it is for healthcare organizations to track and manage people coming and going from their facilities. But an effective visitor management system should be a priority for healthcare leaders and organizations at all times, not just during a pandemic.
By the same token, healthcare organizations need robust vendor credentialing and on-site vendor management systems, and symplr offers software solutions to meet that need. With the right vendor credentialing software, healthcare leaders can ensure that vendors follow organizational guidelines when it comes to infectious disease and patient safety protocols.
Safer patient care through data collection and analysis
The truth about healthcare is that there will always be risks. The key questions, therefore, are: Is your organization aware of the risks? Do you know which risks must take priority? And what actions should you take to control the risks and eliminate them as much as possible?
The Patient Safety Company, a symplr company, specializes in healthcare and patient safety by supplying proven software for quality and risk management—just as our name implies.
Healthcare regulatory standards exist to protect patient safety—which is why, as we’ve discussed in past articles, the penalties for failing to adhere to those standards can be remarkably steep. symplr offers a wide variety of software solutions to help healthcare organizations remain compliant with federal and state regulatory guidelines and effectively manage risk.
Patient errors are costly and dangerous, and protecting patient safety must be a priority for every healthcare organization. Effectively used, the right technology solutions allow healthcare leaders to protect staff, providers—and, of course, patients.
To learn more about how symplr can help your facility or organization build a safer environment, visit symplr.com today.