Over the last 10 years, 17 hospitals have closed in the New York City metro area alone. Those that remain are wrestling with the effects of those closures. While many hospitals around the country would welcome more patients, these remaining hospitals were already full to capacity, so the added patients result in overcrowding and understaffing. Indeed, across the country, hospitals are struggling to develop effective survival strategies as they shoulder the burdens brought on by skyrocketing costs, lower treatment reimbursements and heightened regulatory pressures.
Use tech to boost safety
To address these mounting pressures, some providers have chosen to focus on cutting costs, while others have sought to adopt strategies aimed at increasing the quality of their patients' care. Unfortunately, these priorities are shortsighted: They serve only to treat the symptoms rather than cure the underlying problem. Cost-based initiatives can never be a primary objective for a hospital. Similarly, programs aimed at increasing quality of care ratings and measurements may be helpful, but are vague and arbitrary.
Neither represents a cogent long-term approach, and both distract from our primary mission: to heal our patients and, above all, “do no harm.” Instead, hospitals should be focused on adopting a patient-safety focused culture.
It has been said that “to err is human.” Unfortunately, study after study has borne this out. Human error is the single most important threat to patient safety at hospitals across the country. Startling research has revealed that injuries because of hospital errors are 10 times higher than previously thought. As an industry, we owe it to our patients to do better.
Granted, humans are not perfect, but fortunately, recent technological innovations are proving critical for ensuring patient safety. As we embarked on a path toward further improving patient safety at 509-bed Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y., we found that our technology investments, coupled with an ongoing commitment to staff training, provided our patients with better care in a safer environment. As a byproduct, our costs were significantly reduced and our quality of care rankings increased.
Unfortunately, only 2% of all hospitals in the U.S. have embraced technology-based patient-safety initiatives. As an industry, we can and should do better. If technology can assist in preventing mistakes, we must make this critical investment.
By investing in “smart” computerized intravenous infusion pumps, significant steps can be made toward eliminating potentially deadly, and certainly costly, human errors. These “smart” pumps are designed to improve safety by automatically verifying appropriate drug dosage limits. An alert intercepts incorrect inputs and automatically prevents tragic consequences. After all, who can forget the famous case where actor Dennis Quaid's infant twins were mistakenly given overdoses of blood thinner? We have a duty to ensure that these mistakes are prevented.
Another way technology can be tapped to improve patient safety is to adopt a computerized system of recording attending physician's notes with built-in checks and balances to further ensure that a patient's treatment orders are filled properly. The antiquated paper-based system of handwritten notes is fraught with peril. In 2011, patient safety should not be dependent upon staff accurately deciphering a physician's notoriously illegible handwriting.
Additionally, investing in hospital beds that combine intelligent engineering with mobility solutions can also significantly improve patient safety. According to the National Center for Personal Injury Protection, one out of 10 patients in the U.S is treated for injuries stemming from their hospital bed, most often the result of a fall. But advances can now significantly reduce these risks. Intelligent beds can detect patient movements and automatically alert staff when a patient is in an active state, has a dangerous posture, is leaking fluids onto the sheets or has left their bed altogether. Again, these innovations are ripe for implementation and can significantly increase patient safety.
Advanced technologies can also now streamline the admittance process, reduce paperwork and better a patient's care throughout their stay. Radio-frequency identification-enabled bracelets can further reduce human error, as vital patient care is embedded on the patient's wrist and protects against the harm that can come from a caregiver reviewing an incorrect chart. Additionally, staff can accurately keep tabs on the patient's location within a sprawling facility and easily verify that ordered tests are successfully completed.
Our patients expect us to cure their illnesses, not just treat their symptoms. Similarly, hospitals must redouble our efforts to better the industry's patient-safety record. If we do, we will likely find our cost concerns alleviated and our patients will more favorably view the quality of their care. Most important, though, we will find that the return on a safety-focused investment is measured in something far more valuable: lives saved.
John Collins is president and CEO of Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y.
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