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We live in a society that prioritizes speed, efficiency and multi-tasking. There are certainly situations where those skills are appropriate. However, an environment in which exhausted individuals are constantly making life-and-death decisions for other people is not the place.
Yet hospitals constantly do that. Far too often, sleep-deprived doctors and nurses in Pennsylvania make serious or even fatal medication errors because they fail to concentrate on their work. Thankfully, one doctor is setting out to change that.
Dr. Donald heads the nation’s Medicare and Medicaid programs, and he has spent much of his professional life working to make hospitals safer by learning from other industries that prioritize safety.
For example, in commercial aviation, safety is engineered into every element of flying. Travelers have a 1 in 20 million chance of dying in an aviation accident. Conversely, although hospitals are designed to keep people healthy, it is clear that hospitals fall short when it comes to incorporating safety into hospital operations. A recent study found that 1 in 7 Medicare patients is hurt during a hospital stay; hospitals could learn a lot from the aviation industry.
One key to preventing tragic mistakes is to reduce distractions. A study from the aviation industry showed that a shocking portion of fatal crashes was linked to errors caused by distracted crew members. When the industry prohibited unnecessary conversation in the cockpit during crucial periods of flight, the number of accidents decreased drastically.
Dr. Donald focused on implementing similar standards in hospitals. Because of distractions, doctors and nurses sometimes make dangerous mistakes when they order or administer medicine. To eliminate distractions, the hospital crafted a simple solution: Nurses were given a quiet-zone where they could order prescriptions without interruptions or distractions.
The simple safety measure cut medication errors by two-thirds.
As Dr. Donald stated, “We’re frail…but mistakes can be prevented by redesigning systems to protect human beings from their own frailty.” Safety measures do not need to be costly to be effective. However, until hospitals focus on creating environments that eliminate distractions, innocent patients will continue to be injured by careless and preventable mistakes.
Source: Los Angeles Times, “Pressing for better quality across healthcare,” Noam N. Levey, Washington Bureau, Oct. 4, 2011