Patient safety
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Patient Safety: 5 Critical Things Nurses Should Know

Patient safety is a top concern for nurses and all medical professionals. Imagine their reactions to the shocking statements found across the internet since a 2016 study by Johns Hopkins patient safety experts suggested medical errors were the third leading cause of death in the United States. Some organizations and researchers have asserted that this statement is an exaggeration founded on data extrapolated from just a handful of small studies. But it’s still disconcerting.

Currently, it’s impossible to verify the actual number of deaths directly caused by a medical error as there isn’t an established way to collect accurate data. It’s not even an option for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC listed heart disease, cancer, and COVID-19 as the three leading causes of death in the U.S. in 2020. Although medical errors don’t appear on the list, they do indeed occur.

An unfortunate reality of healthcare is that medical errors have always been an issue and may occur more frequently than they should. Even one error that leads to an adverse effect is too many. Nurses play a crucial role in preventing medical mistakes through their diligence to preserve patient safety and prevent harm during short-term and long-term care. Another unfortunate reality is that ongoing nursing shortages make it more challenging to ensure the absolute best in patient care and increase the risk of errors.

From medication errors to the potential for infections and falls, hospitals are high-risk environments with dangers lurking throughout these facilities. You can prevent errors and accidents that impact patient safety with appropriate safeguards that help reduce injuries, infections, and preventable deaths. Because nurses maintain a bedside presence, they’re at the forefront of patient safety efforts. As a nurse, you’re in a prime position to catch medical errors before they occur and relay crucial information to doctors. Review these five vital things you should know about patient safety for better overall care.

1. Understand Top Patient Safety Concerns

One of the best ways to prevent errors and improve patient safety is to be aware of common issues that could impact your patients’ well-being. Without regard to prevalence, some top patient safety concerns and potential causes include:

  • Hospital acquired infections: Contaminated tools or surfaces, improper hand washing, lack of proper sanitation in care units, or questionable surgical or transfusion procedures
  • Medication errors: Wrong meds prescribed by doctor or supplied by pharmacy, doctor orders included wrong medication dosages, incorrect patient medical record entries, or wrong patient identified
  • Defective devices: faulty medical devices significantly increase the risks of patient injuries or complications
  • Diagnostic errors: Wrong diagnosis or delayed diagnosis potentially lead to a patient failing to get necessary treatment(s) on time
  • Blood clots: Missed clumps of blood that naturally form within the body, easily prevented through various care interventions like clot dissolvers, blood thinners, anticoagulants, and vein filters
  • Poor information flow: Insufficient or improper communication from hospitals, units, or service areas during patient transfers
  • Knowledge transfer shortage: Lack of training or conflicting information about hospital workflows to new medical staff

2. Follow Strict Disinfection Protocols

Healthcare professionals know more about disinfecting and sanitizing than most people. Unfortunately, hospital acquired infections (HAIs) still occur primarily due to the excessive number of germs introduced into healthcare settings. Common HAIs include pneumonia, surgical site infections, bloodstream infections, staph infections, and urinary tract infections. Patients who are immunocompromised and/or on more than one antibiotic and exposed to numerous pathogens during a hospital stay have increased risks of developing these and other infections.

Something as simple as more frequent handwashing significantly prevents the spread of germs in hospitals and other medical facilities. The CDC recommends that healthcare professionals working 12-hour shifts wash their hands up to 100 times a shift, based on the level of patient care provided and number of patients seen in a regular shift. It also recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer regularly.

Hand hygiene is one of the easiest and best ways to prevent germs from spreading. Nurses should also talk to their patients about the importance of regularly washing and sanitizing their hands. Wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), effective sterilization of medical equipment, and frequent cleaning of surfaces and high-traffic areas are other great ways to help rid hospitals of germs.

3. Utilize Advanced Monitoring Equipment

Many hospitals already use the latest monitoring technology to improve patient safety. As a nurse, it’s crucial that you understand and use this equipment to your advantage to reduce the possibility of accidents and mistakes. Portable monitors and wearable devices make reaching a nurse more accessible than stationary call buttons and quickly know when patients need assistance. Bed alarms notify nurses if a patient falls off the bed and needs medical attention. Barcode systems verify patients’ medications, helping reduce medication mistakes. These are just a few systems that make tracking patients’ needs more accurate and efficient. They also provide easy ways to catch and prevent human errors from causing patient harm.

4. Verify Patients and All Procedures

Using “time outs” and extensive checklists have dramatically reduced the prevalence of wrong person/wrong surgical procedure errors. However, you must prevent errors during the patient’s entire stay through vigilance and technology. Monitoring equipment like barcode scanners and Electronic Medical Records that include patient photos also help you verify patients and procedures.

While it may seem redundant to use the patient’s name and birthdate for every encounter, it’s essential for nurses to verify they have the right patient. Once you’re confident you have the right patient, double-check all medical procedures to ensure patients don’t receive the wrong blood tests, blood products, invasive procedures, medications, medication dosages, or newborns.

5. Prevent Medication Errors

The World Health Organization previously estimated that one death occurs daily due to medication errors and approximately 1.3 million people a year have an injury related to medication errors in the U.S. alone. The Federal Drug Administration receives over 100,000 medication error reports yearly in the U.S. However, these errors may occur anywhere throughout the medication-use system, including entering medication information in a computer system or prescribing, preparing, or dispensing medications.

Nurses are primarily concerned with the last step, giving medications to patients. During this step, you must verify that the right patient receives the right drug, dose, dosing schedule and route of administration. Again, this is where barcode systems come in handy. Despite built-in protocols and technology, medication errors still occur in busy units when nurses have too many tasks due to staffing shortages or poor scheduling. Medication mistakes can be deadly. It’s critical to take the time to double-check all medication information before handing out a pill or giving a shot.

Bonus: Top 2022 Patient Safety Concerns

Besides recurring patient safety concerns, the Emergency Care Research Institute (ECRI) released its top 10 patient safety risks for 2022. Unsurprisingly, staffing shortages and healthcare workers’ mental health topped the list. According to ECRI, an estimated 24% of hospitals in the U.S. were critically understaffed in January 2022, with another 100 facilities anticipated to face critical shortages within a week. ECRI’s entire patient safety concerns listed in order include:

  1. Staffing shortages
  2. COVID-19 effects on healthcare workers’ mental health
  3. Bias and racism in addressing patient safety
  4. Vaccine coverage gaps and errors
  5. Cognitive biases and diagnostic error
  6. Non-ventilator healthcare-associated pneumonia
  7. Human factors in operationalizing telehealth
  8. International supply chain disruptions
  9. Products subject to emergency use authorization
  10. Telemetry monitoring

Vivian Helps You Find Jobs

Inadequate staffing can contribute to medical mistakes. Fatigue and stress caused by nurses working longer shifts due to a lack of workforce make it difficult for them to think clearly. It also makes them more prone to make incorrect decisions. Vivian helps healthcare facilities find the staff they need to enhance patient safety through appropriate staffing. We also help medical staff find the right job for them.

Vivian advocates for nurses and other healthcare professionals who heroically serve our communities. Our job search tools, employer reviews, transparent salary information, and other resources make finding your ideal permanent, travel, local, or per diem contract easier than ever.

Moira K. McGhee

Moira K. McGhee is Vivian’s Content Writer & Editor. As part of the Vivian Health team, she strives to help support the empowerment of nurses and other medical professionals in their pursuits to find top-notch travel, staff, per diem and local contract positions.

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