Antiquated methods put patients at risk

In the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Unless we progress, we regress.”

This statement rings true in so many aspects of our lives, especially when it comes to healthcare. The healthcare industry has changed significantly over the years. A key driver of this change is health IT, which has enabled the industry to progress from mostly paper-based to digital. In doing so providers are able to improve data collection and workflow to deliver higher quality, safer care.

Patient Safety Awareness Week is the ideal time to celebrate the successes achieved through advances in health IT, such as electronic health record systems. It’s also an opportunity to look at other areas still lagging behind. One area that’s prime for a technological update is surgery coordination.

Despite advances in technology, hospitals and surgery centers around the country continue to rely on old school phone, fax and text to coordination surgical cases. As a result, the same issues that put patients at risk many years ago – lack of coordination, illegibility, miscommunication, etc. – continue to exist today.

Understanding the risks

Surgery coordination risks begin immediately after it’s deemed a patient needs a procedure; during scheduling. Because schedulers typically have no medical training, procedure names are often spelled incorrectly. Poor handwriting and basic human error such as a mix up in laterality are also common problems that occur during the scheduling process.

As surgery coordination continues, so does the potential for errors. There are many people and steps required for a surgical procedure. When relying on text, phone or fax to communicate changes or updates, it’s easy to miss someone or something. Furthermore, because communication is siloed, there are fewer eyes looking at case details making it easy for errors (like laterality) to slip through the cracks. When errors and miscommunication happen, patient flow is disrupted and patient satisfaction and safety are at risk.

Moving beyond status quo

Without a collaborative way to plan and coordinate cases, communications issues will continue to put patient safety at risk. Deploying a central coordination hub to store, access and share all case-related information is a simple solution to this age-old problem. A cloud-based system that is easily accessible via tablet or mobile device means everyone — including clinical staff, front office, anesthesia, reps and physician offices — is continually on the same page regardless of location. Uploading and sharing imaging and other documentation in a HIPPA-compliant manner ensures patients and information stay safe. Illegibility is no longer an issue. And, with all eyes on the same information it is easier to catch potential errors.

Customized red flag alerts add an additional layer of safety by proactively alerting case members to potential issues such as allergies or high blood pressure. The value of red flag alerts goes beyond the planning stage. By extending red flag alerts to surgery boards they follow a patient throughout the entire surgical episode — from pre-op, to PACU, through post-op — which provides yet another level of safety by ensuring nothing is missed. The alerts can also be used to indicate a change in case. For example, if laterality is changed this information is flagged and displayed on surgery boards and within the surgery coordination application — in red — to ensure it is not missed.

No excuses

Operating in a silo and antiquated communication expose patients to risk. Surgical cases are a team effort. Success requires seamless coordination and communication so that everyone is on the same page from the moment a case is scheduled all the way through discharge. Health IT has progressed. There is no excuse for putting patient safety at jeopardy by ignoring technological advances.

 

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