patients need to be aware of hidden hazards in the health care setting

Whether receiving treatment in a hospital or the office of a primary care physician, most patients now understand that there are certain care-related dangers of which they should be aware. More importantly, most patients also understand that there are simple steps they can take to protect themselves.

For instance, more and more patients now understand the dangers posed by hospital-acquired infections, and know that they can limit their chances of acquiring one by asking attending medical professionals to follow both proper hand-washing procedures and proper sterilization techniques (changed bandages, maintained catheters, etc.).

While this is certainly encouraging, it’s important to understand that there are other medical hazards that may not otherwise be obvious to patients in any setting. In light of this reality, it is incumbent upon health care organizations to not only raise patient awareness, but also take steps to protect them to the fullest extent possible.

In today’s post, we’ll take a closer look at these a few of these hazards.

Fatigue among health care workers

While it may not come as a surprise to most patients to learn that their treating physician or nurse is suffering from excessive stress, fatigue or even burnout, it may surprise them to learn that this can seriously jeopardize their medical care.

By way of illustration, consider the recently published report by the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, which found that there were 1,601 fatigue-related incidents reported to the agency between June 2004 and August 2013, and that 37 of these were classified as serious events (i.e., those that resulted in harm), including four patient fatalities.

The PPSA report also concluded that the reduction of hours alone was insufficient to address the issue, as this is only one facet of the underlying problem. Indeed, the researchers found that fatigue related to disrupted sleep patterns and brutal work schedules can also take a toll on health care workers’ energy levels.

It’s clear that health care organizations need to take a more comprehensive look at the problem of health care-related fatigue, perhaps reexamining work schedules and staff shifts.

Health care workers and substance abuse

Perhaps in part because of the stress and fatigue outlined above, more health care professionals are turning to illegal substances, namely prescription drugs. Indeed, some statistics show that over 100,000 health care professionals (physicians, nurses, technicians, etc.) are currently dealing with addiction issues or abuse prescription drugs.

While the danger posed by health care professionals working under the influence of drugs is obvious, experts indicate that many health care organizations have failed to take the necessary steps to address this issue. Compounding the problem, they say, is that many health care professionals refuse to seek any help due to either the false belief that they have things under control or fear the repercussions of coming clean.

It’s clear that health care organizations need to be more proactive about this problem, perhaps creating anonymous treatment programs or reporting mechanisms, or even instituting mandatory drug tests for staff members.

To be continued …

Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional if you’ve suffered a serious injury because of what you believe was medical malpractice and would like to learn more about your options for pursuing justice.

Source: FierceHealthcare, “4 unexpected patient safety hazards,” Zack Budryk, Aug. 1, 2014

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