Since the passing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), hospitals have had to increase their focus on solutions for patient safety or risk penalties in the form of Medicare cuts. In 2019, 800 hospitals were penalized this way — a significant increase from five years prior when the Hospital Acquired Conditions (HAC) Reduction Program came into effect. These penalties have brought hospitals to compete with each other as the citations are only given to the hospitals with the highest rates of safety incidents. Regardless of whether their records have improved from the previous year, hospitals are cited if they are among the highest on the list.  

While many have protested that the HAC system is arbitrary because of its changing penalty thresholds, patient safety is unquestionably a hospital priority, so the daily labors to reduce and prevent injury carries on. Generally, the risk for mishaps increases in a fast-paced environment, but it is especially so when that environment utilizes heavy equipment, sharps and needles, and plays host to infectious germs and bacteria. As June is National Safety month, we can’t go without examining some preventable hazards and considering their viable solutions. 

Patient Safety in Hospitals

When patients are harmed in healthcare, it’s an unintended event that requires the patient to undergo additional monitoring or treatment, and which sometimes results in death. These preventable injuries are known as adverse events and can take the form of hospital-acquired infections, misdiagnosis, surgical error, mistakes in medication, in-hospital injuries, and more. The World Health Organization estimates that, of the approximately 421 million annual hospitalizations in the world, around 42.7 million adverse events occur in patients during their time in the hospital. 

Hospital Worker Safety

Effectively mitigating unsafe hospital conditions is to the benefit of patients and workers alike. In fact, U.S. hospitals recorded 221,400 work-related injuries and illnesses in 2019. Slips and falls, overexertion, and contact with objects are the primary causes of injury among hospital workers while muscle strains and sprains are the primary injury type. Addressing patient safety concerns easily overlaps with many workplace hazards hospital staff face every day, so correcting one issue is likely to correct others as well.

Hospital Hazards and Solutions for Patient Safety

The list of hospital hazards is long and items on that list range from the physical to the psychological. Our focus will be on several physical safety concerns including food service errors, risk of infection, surgical errors, and workstation arrangements.

Food Service Errors

While errors in food service are commonly overlooked in the grand scheme of patient safety, a single error can result in serious harm to a patient. A study by the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority (PPSA) found that, between 2009 and 2014, hospital staff throughout the state committed 285 food-related errors, 181 of which were allergy related. This study also discovered mistakes like serving meals to patients who should have been fasting and incorrectly charting important dietary information. 

With the emergence of this information, the PPSA suggested risk-reduction strategies like encouraging food service employees to check for two patient identifiers before serving them their food. For such instances, scanning a patient’s wristband with an RFID scanner is a secure and error-reducing method for verifying a patient’s identity against their food order. Another way to reduce such mishaps is to electronically enter meal orders on medical tablets. This creates an easy-to-follow outline where allergies and other dietary restrictions are clearly stated. 

Tracking Patients in Long-Term Care Wards

In addition to helping identify patients and match them with the correct meal orders, RFID tags have other major benefits as well. When patients are physically or cognitively impaired and are at increased risk for injury, RFID enabled wristbands allow staff to monitor patient locations to further ensure their safety. They are also used to properly match a mother with her newborn infant. When a hospital focuses on preventative safety measures like these, resources can be allocated to patient care instead of to crisis management.

Infection

Hospital acquired infections are another major point of concern that Lancaster General Hospital addressed with an ultraviolet room disinfection robot. The five minute process prepares rooms for new patients more quickly and eliminates dangerous viruses before cleaning staff enter the room. While this is an impressive solution, it may not be a feasible option in every hospital.

Reducing the risk of infection is partly the responsibility of management leadership and partly the responsibility of hospital staff. However, the technology staples in nearly every room can be of greater benefit than you might imagine. Fanless computers, for example, can prevent the spread of bacteria because they have no fan to circulate such pathogens throughout the room. Medical grade computers are a great example of fanless devices. They are also constructed with antimicrobial properties and sealed so they can be disinfected without fear of damaging the internal components. Such enhancements to commonly used devices in the workplace are effective solutions that mitigate the risk of transferring harmful bacteria among staff and across patients.

Surgical Instrument Tracking

With advancements in operational intelligence in healthcare, hospitals are able to track and manage every surgical instrument in the facility. Its age, sterilization history, suitability for use, and even the history of previous procedures in which it was used, are all traceable with smart software. In conjunction with medical computers and tablets, software like Censitrac can reduce the number of operating room errors that compromise patient safety. This approach is already being employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Veterans Health Administration across 152 VA Medical Centers. 

Workstations and Cluttered Spaces

Because of the many applications of technology in patient care, rooms can become cluttered with equipment and outstretched cords and cables become inevitable hazards. Once a workstation is wheeled into the room as part of a patient’s routine care, space becomes even smaller. 

Though battery powered medical carts help reduce cable clutter, they are still bulky and heavy to maneuver around a patient room. Also, because of their poor ergonomics, they have been known to cause muscle strain among hospital staff. A successful alternative has been a non-powered cart with a battery powered medical all-in-one computer. By eliminating the need for heavy cart batteries, this alternative solution can reduce the weight of a workstation on wheels by up to 50 pounds, making it much easier to maneuver from room to room. This was the case with Baker County Medical who switched from using battery powered healthcare carts to a non-powered cart with a hot-swap battery computer.

Patient Safety Measures Extend to Everyone

When a hospital addresses safety concerns, everyone benefits from the enhanced space that is created. Hospitals that implement organization-wide solutions like fanless medical computers, RFID trackers, and comprehensive disinfection protocols understand this, and the generated safety information and solutions are shared for the benefit of all who enter or participate in the hospital. Such measures are also a cost-effective solution for the long-term, as they save hospitals the expenses that accumulate with each Hospital Acquired Infection and the lost labor hours that result from workplace illness and injury.

If you would like to learn more and discover other technical solutions for patient safety, contact a Cybernet expert today.