Ensuring the Safety of Patients

Samantha StaufBy Samantha Stauf

Patient files, family and patient medical history interviews, and hospital safety guidelines are meant to help medical professionals ensure the safety of their patients. Still time after time my great-aunt has ended her hospital stay with a life threatening allergic reaction to pain killers. In a profession where mistakes can cost lives, continual patient care oversights are unacceptable. Yes, doctors and nurses make mistakes, but hospitals, clinics and other healthcare institutions can take steps to ensure that when a patient informs doctors that they have a serious allergy to pain killers that information is not misinterpreted, lost in translation, or forgotten.   

Implement Patient Centered Care

According to the University of Arizona’s MSN program patient centered care focuses on meeting the unique needs of patients. This means that patients are consulted as decisions are made, informed of any pertinent medical information, and all medical decisions are decided with patients beliefs, preferences and needs.

Traditionally the United States health profession was run with a disease centered philosophy. In disease centered care, doctors and nurses diagnose patients and then present potential procedures based on statistics and past experiences with the disease. While an experienced medical professional understands that they must meld past success with the disease and the patient’s individual health circumstances, it can be easy to lose sight of the patient in the race to cure the disease.

This is where pesky pain killer allergies are overlooked, and patient lives are placed at risk by outside factors. By switching from a disease centered philosophy to a patient centered one, you can emphasize the need for the staff to never lose sight of the patient while battling the disease.

Properly Navigating Electronic Medical Records

Institutional philosophy does not matter if patient history is not meticulously recorded and available. Slowly hospitals have been switching from paper records to electronic medical records (EMRs). EMRs have many features that have the ability to change patient care for the better: the ability to

  • record more patient history.
  • access the EMRs from virtually any electronic device equipped with the proper software.
  • utilize barcoded bracelets to ensure that patients receive the right drugs.

A doctor’s ability to easily access more thorough medical record has the potential to equate to higher quality patient centered care and higher safety. Unfortunately the improvements provided to patient medical records are not without potential pitfalls.

Since EMR systems have been adapted there have been a number of fatalities reported based on EMR malfunction and human error. Medical professionals and hospitals can prevent such mistakes by:

  • ensuring that the EMR systems are high tech and user friendly enough before adopting the system.
  • hiring health informatics professionals who specialize in properly using and monitoring medical technology.
  • training all staff to input information and interpret the data.
  • telling all staff to question any potential errors that could result in life threatening circumstances. 
  • ensuring patient information is stored in a back-up server.

EMRs are powerful tools when carefully designed, meticulously monitored, and properly used. Whether you work in a medical institution with an EMR or your hospital will soon implement one, we must carefully ensure that the tool increases rather than decreased safety.

No Cutting Corners

Outside of the workplace, professionals in the medical field should feel free to cut as many corners as they desire. While at work, taking shortcuts to decrease the time of a task, the number of tasks, or make the workflow easier should be avoided unless not cutting corners would lead to patient risk.

Why? Chopping out unwanted tasks often decreases the safety of either the patient or the employee. It is often a rule bending move that deliberately ignores safety standards that have been carefully put in place. Failing to consult allergies for example, could lead to doctors prescribing medication that they should not. Failure to adhere to proper lifting regulations could result in employee injury. Medical institutions should have a zero tolerance policy for medical professional practices that could directly result in patient or worker injury by:

  • always strictly upholding policies and procedures that can directly or indirectly effect safety.
  • properly training employees.
  • encouraging employees to report unsafe practices or guide employees away from those practices.

Medical institutions should be a safe haven. A place that people go to seek the medical attention they need. Medical professionals should take steps to ensure that their own methods will not contribute to potential patient danger. There are many methods that can be used to increase the safety of patients,  patient centered care, properly using medical records, and never cutting unnecessary corners is a solid place to start. 

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