initiative explores how to combat errors related to patient handoffs

Anyone who has been a hospital patient for an extended period of time knows from firsthand experience that the people responsible for providing medical care change shifts on such a frequent basis that it can often be difficult to keep names and faces straight.

While this unavoidable reality of “patient handoffs” or “care transitions” can understandably prove frustrating for patients, it can also prove to be dangerous. Indeed, several patient advocacy groups have identified patient handoffs as one of the biggest safety issues facing U.S. hospitals today.

The problem, say experts, is that the necessary medical information is not always shared during patient care transitions thanks to the combination of ineffective hospital procedures and a hectic work environment. This, of course, can jeopardize the wellbeing of patients, particularly those whose complex illnesses require treatment from multiple providers/hospital units.

Interestingly, a group comprised of 23 children’s hospitals here in the U.S. recently took part in a yearlong quality improvement initiative designed to examine the extent to which medical mistakes related to patient handoffs could be reduced through the introduction of standardized practices.

“Ultimately, what we want is fewer kids to be harmed,” said one of the physicians behind the initiative. “We know bad handoffs harm patients. We want those kids to be safer.”

Here, the 23 children’s hospitals — all of which received specialized training — selected certain types of patient handoffs they wanted to analyze. From there, they established straightforward policies and procedures that were structured in such a way as to ensure vital patient information (weight, age, allergies, etc.) was transferred during the handoffs.

To illustrate, one hospital focused its efforts on introducing standardized procedures into patient transfers during shift changes, from the Emergency Department to inpatient units and from inpatient units to the Radiology Department.

Overall, the results of the initiative, which examined close to 8,000 patient handoffs at the 23 children’s hospitals, found that so-called “handoff-related care failures” declined by almost 70 percent.

Given the success of the initiative, we can hope that hospitals across Pennsylvania consider taking similar measures to ensure that patients receive the safe and effective medical care to which they are entitled.

If hospital negligence has caused you or your family to endure unacceptable suffering, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about your legal options.

Source: Columbus CEO, “Children’s hospital tackles potential errors by improving patient handoffs,” Cheryl Powell, July 23, 2014

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