Last week, March 13-19, was Patient Safety Awareness Week, an initiative of the National Patient Safety Foundation. Patient safety is a vitally important healthcare issue, and can include measures ranging from hand washing to complex technological solutions.
Reflecting on Patient Safety Awareness Week, I would like to bring awareness to a major problem that has great potential to be solved – patient falls. It is an issue with serious consequences not only for patients but also for the hospitals that serve them.
Safety Begins with Communication
According to a recent survey, communication failures have been linked to 1,744 patient deaths in five years, many of them a result of falls even though, according to the CDC, most patient falls are avoidable.
Studies show that in developed countries, nearly one in ten patients are harmed while receiving hospital care. From 2009 to 2013, analysts identified more than 7,000 instances where communication failures were to blame.
In one instance, a 70-year-old cancer patient had a serious fall where she lacerated the back of her head. Initially, she appeared to be stable. However, within two weeks of the accident, she passed away from a subdural hematoma, which was directly attributed to the fall.
This is one example of the millions of patients in the U.S. who are affected by avoidable hospital mistakes each year.
Following this incident, the hospital has implemented recommendations to improve communication between staff members, patients and their families, which has effectively improved falls management.
Technology Can Play a Role
Dramatically reducing patient falls is within reach for U.S. hospitals. Technology and the right communication tools can help clinical staff prevent falls before they happen.
“Healthcare workers are the eyes and ears of patients, but in order to establish a culture of safety, they require proper tools and ongoing education.”- Martie Moore, chief nursing officer, Medline.
There are an estimated 1.5 million different medical devices available worldwide. Healthcare organizations must consider which devices will ultimately make communication easier among clinical staff, and most importantly, with patients.
Consistency and simplicity are important factors to consider when implementing new technology. Additionally, standardization of protocols for caregivers can improve patient care, communication and caregiver accountability.
Many patient falls, and possibly even the majority of patient falls, are completely preventable. In the spirit of Patient Safety Awareness Week, now is the time to research and consider the extremely simple, yet effective, solutions that already exist thanks to advancements in technology. Even small-scale implementations can go a long way in dramatically reducing patient falls, helping hospitals avoid costly regulatory penalties and improving patient safety.