pennsylvania medical staff errors contribute to patient deaths

Hospital rooms can be filled with daunting machines that make strange noises. For many patients, the constant monitoring can at first seem frightening. After a few days, however, the buzz of these machines often becomes run-of-the-mill. For patients, becoming used to these monitors can ease their nerves. Unfortunately, when nurses begin to see them as simply fixtures in the room, patients’ lives can be put in jeopardy.

According to a recent study published in the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Advisory publication, 35 Pennsylvania patients died because of a monitor-related error between June 2004 and December 2005. In most of those situations, the monitor-related error was caused by medical staff negligence.

Medical monitoring equipment is used with patients who are suffering from minor ailments as well as those who are critically ill. For those who need round-the-clock monitoring, this equipment often gives the first indication when something goes wrong. Unfortunately, if nurses unplug the equipment or silence the alarms, that indication goes unnoticed.

According to the ECRI Institute and the Institute for Safe Medication Practices who produced the latest patient safety report, 31 out of the 35 recent monitor-related deaths were caused by staff errors. Of those 31 errors, 14 involved medical staff disconnecting the monitoring equipment. Another four related to nurses medical staff members silencing the equipment’s alarms.

The study’s author suggested that simple steps could be taken to prevent deaths related to errors with monitoring equipment:

  • Nurses and technicians need to be educated regarding alarms related to physiologic monitors.
  • All medical staff should know their responsibilities for managing monitoring equipment and responding to alarms.
  • Equipment should be tested regularly, batteries should be replaced on a schedule and all alarms should be tested.
  • Primary care staff and monitor technicians should be regularly tested for “alarm desensitization” to ensure that they will respond appropriately to alarms.

Pennsylvania hospitals are charged with caring for some of the most critically ill and injured. Nurses and other staff members must be held accountable when their errors cause patients more pain or even death.

Source: Cardiovascular Business, “Provider error accounts for most monitor-related deaths in Pa.,” David Pearson, Aug. 31, 2011

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