Avoiding Errors In Patient Care

When someone is admitted to the hospital, he or she is in a position of great vulnerability. Patients are counting on their caregivers to do things correctly and provide the best possible outcome for their injury, illness, or condition.

Yet we live in a time of great stress in all aspects of the medical profession. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and everyone around them are pulled to the absolute limit of their span of management. There are too few people to help too many patients, and it is very easy for mistakes to take place.

It’s in those times that we need every tool we can get to help us protect against mistakes brought on by hectic working conditions. While some people may be very sensitive and think of these tools as an insult to their capabilities–particularly with long-tenured staff who haven’t always worked with so many patients–it’s essential that we swallow our pride and take advantage of some of the things out there that help us do our jobs more effectively. After all, it’s about the patients first and foremost.

Here are some of the tools we can use to avoid errors. They can clear up confusion and head off mistakes before they occur, leading to better patient care.

Medication Errors
Because medicine is transferred to patients outside its original container, it’s possible to get a patient’s pills mixed up, especially if he or she spills them. One could be given too many times a day and another too few if personnel can’t properly identify them. Add in the immense number of prescription drugs on the market and it’s easy to see where errors could be made.

That’s where a pill identifier can help. If there’s uncertainty about which pill is which, these tools will give a definitive answer about what is what. It’s a faster technique than flipping through a huge book or calling the pharmacy, and it’s just as effective.

An identifier also eliminates the need to access private patient information frequently, averting possible HIPAA problems.

Communication Errors
Modern medicine in the U.S. has drawn brilliant minds from all over the country and all over the world. These different regions and nations have languages and idioms all their own. When doctors from three states and two countries convene to discuss a patient’s situation, it’s easy for miscommunication to take place.

Not surprisingly, communication is key to good communication. In other words, people should be very careful that they truly understand another person’s statement, not that they just think they understand. A doctor from Alabama and a doctor from New York could each say “I don’t care to do that” and mean totally opposite things. Add another 48 states and countless other countries, and it’s obvious that people need to be alert to these variations and to work toward total clarity in their statements.

Typographical Errors
The old typo never seems to go away. We have transitioned away from those nearly illegible handwritten charts and gone to electronic techniques that are perfectly readable. The question is whether they are perfectly accurate. Did someone mean to type in 15 mg or 5 mg? The “2” and “3” are together on the keyboard; is the drug to be given two times a day or three?

Verification is key. We get back to the old notations like b.i.d. and n.p.o. as the way around some of these keyboard errors. We can cross-reference with pharmacy records or physician notes. As data is transferred from one place to another, these techniques must be utilized to eliminate any confusion and keep the patient’s care accurate.

Medical errors are a costly and all too common problem. While some can be linked to incompetence and even fraud, others are human error that are fully avoidable. Having good resources available and verifying anything that seems unusual can prevent many of the issues that can arise, resulting in better patient care and positive patient outcomes.

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