Medical Errors: Silent Killer in Healthcare
IN A NUTSHELL:
- Medical errors can occur anywhere healthcare is provided
- Medical errors considered to be one of the leading causes of death
- Communication breakdown one of the most common causes of medical errors
Medical errors are a widespread occurrence in healthcare—some reports claim them to be one of the leading causes of death in the United States.
The COVID-19 Pandemic undoubtedly presented additional challenges and medical professionals at all levels are working tirelessly to bring society back to life as it was before the pandemic began. These extra efforts have led to an improved standard for healthcare delivery through telehealth, patient empowerment, treatment developments, among others.
Medical errors, however, plague many sectors of the healthcare industry and have not seen much improvement over time.
What are medical errors?
A medical error is defined as an unintended act, the failure of a planned action to be completed as intended, an error in planning to achieve a desired goal, or a departure from the process of patient care that may or may not result in harm.
Real-world examples of medical errors involving an unintended act include not strapping a patient into a wheelchair or not stabilizing a gurney before transferring a patient. Examples of medical errors involving an error in planning or departure from planned patient care could include administering a medication to which a patient has a known allergy or not labeling a laboratory specimen that is subsequently attributed to the wrong patient (Rodziewicz et. al 2021).
What causes medical errors?
Medical errors can occur anywhere healthcare is provided, including hospitals, freestanding emergency rooms, urgent care centers, medical offices, ambulatory surgery centers, nursing homes, pharmacies, and even the private residence of a patient.
There can be several reasons behind the cause of a medical error, one of the most common being a breakdown in communication. This includes medical documentation, verbal communication between the provider and the patient, communication within a facility between members of a care team, or inadequate information flow between facilities within a healthcare system.
Medical errors are not always the fault of the healthcare provider and some scholars believe the term “error” is negative and perpetuates a culture of blame. Medical errors can arise from a patient not conveying correct information about their healthcare history or not knowing all of the information they should have supplied their healthcare provider.
This can result in damaging the morale and confidence of a healthcare provider when the fault was not their own, potentially resulting in physician burnout or leaving the healthcare industry altogether.
That being said, there is a strong debate about limiting the use of the term “medical error” when documenting the event in a patient’s medical record even if the healthcare provider was not at fault. While it is important to recognize the facts and not point fingers, since adverse patient outcomes may occur because of medical errors it is not realistic to cease the usage of medical error without the ultimate goal of preventing and managing its causes and effects (Rodziewicz et al. 2021).
How to Prevent Medical Errors:
No one is perfect and mistakes are a part of human nature, yet there are steps medical facilities and healthcare providers can take to minimize the room for error.
Clinical Communication Tools:
Improving communication workflows is undoubtedly a great first step. It is important for a healthcare facility as a whole to understand how all of their team members are currently communicating and examine areas which could benefit from improvement. It is critical that all members of a care team communicate effectively while maintaining HIPAA compliance—a task which cannot be completed using SMS (texting). Emails can be effective, yet they are not a sure-fire way of keeping everyone informed.
Providing care during an emergency requires instant communication–which is impeded by an inbox full of emails. A communication platform built for healthcare facilities, such as Ready Doc™ Messaging, provides instant messaging, voice messaging, file sharing, and video communication tolls while maintaining HIPAA compliance. The service allows for custom group messaging, priority messaging, delivery confirmation, message recall, and the ability to securely attach any type of file such as an X-ray or MRI scan directly to a conversation in real-time. All of these features are an ideal first step toward reducing the likelihood of medical errors.
Medical Credentialing Software:
Proper credentialing of healthcare providers is important beyond meeting regulatory requirements, expediting provider enrollment, improving patient trust, and boosting revenue for facilities. Credentialing software improves patient safety by reducing the risk of medical errors. The credentialing processes ensures all healthcare providers have the education, training, and professional experience for their scope of practice.
At the same time, medical credentialing software often utilizes automation tools which reduces the likelihood of human error and administrative burnout that happens from using spreadsheets or other manual credentialing methods.
Consequently, credentialing software reduces medical errors by alleviating the need for healthcare providers to complete administrative tasks which could result in physician burnout. Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine reported physician burnout is equally responsible for medical errors as unsafe medical workplace conditions. Results from a survey sent to nearly 7,000 physicians across the country found physicians suffering from burnout had more than twice the odds of self-reported medical errors, after adjusting for specialty, work hours, fatigue and work unit safety rating.
Medical credentialing software can also handle appointments and privileges. This is essential to ensure only qualified healthcare providers are treating patients in a specific scope of practice. Hospital privileges authorize healthcare professionals for a specific practice of patient care in a specified facility. Privileges are granted to physicians based on their current medical credentials and previous clinical experience. Medical errors can easily happen if a healthcare provider is asked to treat a patient for which they are not qualified to do so.
Continuing Medical Education:
Even with years of formal education, training, residency, and professional experience, healthcare professionals of all specialties need to always be furthering their education. Continuing medical education, or CME and CEU for physicians and nurses respectively, is required for license renewal. An additional benefit is continuing medical education reduces medical errors.
Ready Doc™ Learning has a course catalog containing hundreds of free CME for physicians and free CEUs for nurses, and premium courses which contain the latest industry developments and up-to-date information pertinent to a specific scope of practice. Healthcare professionals can browse courses by their specialty, medical license, state, and credit type. There is even a 7-contact-hour, online course which provides an overview on the prevention of medical errors. The ACCME-accredited course defines the scope of the problem and includes ways to avoid medication errors and medical mistakes. The course also takes a dive into why medical errors are underreported—helping participants learn new strategies for how to decrease medical errors and improve communication, all while increasing patient safety and the quality of patient care.
Reduce Medical Errors Today:
Medical facility administrators and individual healthcare providers can get ahead of reducing medical errors with Ready Doc™ by Intiva Health, which offers a variety of tools to expedite credentialing, increase compliance, and improve clinical communication. Facilities and providers can get started for free with credential storage, privileges tracking, exclusion list monitoring, and hundreds of continuing medical education courses.
Get started today and schedule a free demo to learn how Ready Doc™ can reduce the likelihood of medical errors for medical facilities of all sizes along with individual healthcare providers.