2019: Top 10 Medical Safety Concerns
January 3, 2020
According to a report from the ECRI Institute, diagnostic mistakes and the mismanagement of patient test results is the top patient safety hazard of 2019. Every year the institute releases a report on the top ten patient safety issues in the healthcare industry, and for the second year in a row diagnostic errors are at the top of the list. Considering that medical mistakes are a leading cause of death in the United States, the ECRI’s analysis serves as a sobering reminder of just how desperately improvements need to be made in the healthcare industry.
Medical mistakes are the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. A Johns Hopkins study reported that more than 250,000 people die from medical errors every year – but other studies have claimed numbers as high as 444,000. Medical errors occur when healthcare providers make avoidable mistakes that negatively affect medical outcomes. Far too often, these mistakes result in permanent or deadly consequences for patients and their loved ones.
The Top 10 Patient Safety Concerns
According to the ECRI’s comprehensive report, the top ten patient safety concerns of 2019 are:
- Diagnostic mistakes and mismanaging test results. An example of a diagnostic mistake is when a doctor misdiagnoses a patient or fails to diagnose a condition in a timely manner despite having all the necessary information available. Mismanaging test results includes misinterpreting diagnostic findings, failing to communicate the results to all treating providers, and when providers take the wrong course of medical intervention or treatment due to misinterpreting or mishandling results.
- According to the ECRI’s findings, approximately one-third of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary. Improperly prescribing antibiotics directly affects rates of antimicrobial resistance, which is a major public health concern.
- Physician burnout. When healthcare professionals experience burnout, they become more likely to make life-threatening mistakes both in practice and judgment. The institute recommends that healthcare organizations reassess provider’s work and individual caseloads in order to better protect patients from burnout-related errors.
- Problems with remote monitoring devices. There are a variety of different kinds of remote monitoring devices, such as digital blood pressure cuffs that send a patient’s test results to their doctor and voice applications that give patients medical reminders (like instructing diabetic patients when to take insulin) and allow physicians to monitor the disease. Remote monitoring devices are problematic because it can be difficult to tell if a patient is using the technology correctly and because many devices have not undergone safety testing and approval by government agencies. To combat hazards associated with remote monitoring medical devices, the ECRI encourages training providers and patients on how to properly use the mobile technology. The institute also urges providers to ensure the safety and status of a device before recommending it to patients.
- Improving behavioral health interventions. Behavioral health not only involves a person’s mental and psychiatric health, but also has to do with recognizing and treating drug and alcohol addiction and assisting with domestic or family/relationship-based issues. Too often physicians fail to adequately assess a patient’s behavioral health and instead focus solely on physical concerns. The ECRI recommends that healthcare organizations implement behavioral health trainings for providers and establish connections with helpful community resources.
- Noticing changes in a patient’s condition. When healthcare personnel do not recognize changes in a person’s health status, it can result in deadly outcomes. The ECRI notes that failing to identify health status changes in patients happens during transitions of care, like when a different doctor takes over the case or during shift changes in staff.
- Maintaining skills and continuing to develop new ones. The healthcare industry is always changing, and many of the changes happen rapidly. Providers need to stay on top of not only what is new (such as new machines, devices, medications, etc.) but also keep fine-tuning the skills they already have. Simulation training, which allows healthcare professionals to practice without compromising patient safety, is just one way to positively impact outcomes.
- Recognizing, diagnosing, and treating sepsis in patients. Sepsis is a dangerous condition caused by the body’s response to infection. When fighting off infection, the body releases chemicals into the bloodstream. Sepsis is when the body’s response to these chemicals is unbalanced, which compromises a person’s organ systems. According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, more than 1 million Americans develop sepsis every year – and anywhere from 15-30% die from it. Despite knowing how deadly sepsis can be, doctors still fail to recognize its signs when treating at-risk patients. In order to improve sepsis detection, the ECRI recommends increased training efforts.
- Infections resulting from peripheral intravenous line (PIV) insertion. PIVs are short, plastic tubes commonly called catheters. They are usually inserted into a patient’s hand, arm, foot, or scalp. Sometimes, medical workers insert PIVs into patients as an “in case for later” – but catheter insertion exposes a person to the risk of infection. Providers should only catheterize patients when absolutely necessary, and should refrain from inserting PIV catheters without good reason.
- The final patient safety concern on the ECRI’s annual list is the standardization of patient safety efforts across the industry. Many healthcare organizations across the country are being consolidated, which means they are being merged together (or sometimes even shut down) or acquired by the same ownership. The ECRI calls these groupings of facilities “mega-systems”, and worries that they do not prioritize patient safety. To combat this concern, the ECRI says the mega-systems should create patient safety organizations.
When medical providers deviate from the accepted standard of care and a patient is harmed as a result, it is medical negligence. Doctors and other medical personnel make mistakes, but some should never happen. If you were injured or became ill because of a medical provider’s negligence, someone at our firm can help. Please contact a representative directly.
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