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Health Technology Hazards: ECRI’s Top 10 for 2013

January 4, 2013
hazard/jasleen kaur, via Flickr

hazard/jasleen kaur, via Flickr

It’s a new year and with it comes new health care technology hazards to keep in mind, as listed in the most recent ECRI Institute report, 2013 Top 10 Heath Technology Hazards. While some risks from last year’s list made a repeat appearance, a few new topics made the cut for 2013.

Alarm hazards still posed the greatest risk, topping the list at number one. Other repeat hazards included medication administration errors while using smart pumps, unnecessary radiation exposure, and surgical fires. For an overview on these, see our post from last year.

Several new opportunities for harm seemed to involve new information technology (IT) that is making its way into health care facilities, such as smartphones and mobile devices. Here’s a snapshot of several of these, and some suggestions the report gives on how to prevent them.

Patient/data mismatches in electronic health records (EHRs) and other health IT systems

The risk:
One patient’s records ending up in another patient’s file may not be a new phenomenon—it happened in traditional paper-based systems as well. But newer, more powerful health IT systems have the capability to transmit mistaken data to a variety of devices and systems, multiplying the adverse effects that could result from these errors.

Some suggestions: The report suggests that when purchasing health IT systems, facilities should consider how all the connected technologies facilitate placing the right patient data into the right record. It also states that a “patient-centric” approach is preferable to a “location-centric” one. All patient flow and device movement should be kept in mind, as well as planning for all types of transfers (not just routine ones). And during implementation of any project or software upgrade, appropriate testing should be carried out to avoid surprises.

Interoperability failures with medical devices and health IT systems

The risk:
Establishing interfaces among medical devices and IT systems has the potential to reduce errors associated with manual documentation, but achieving the appropriate exchange of data can be difficult, and can lead to patient harm. (For example, interfaces between medical devices may not work properly, systems can be incompatible, and one device can have unintended effects on another.)

Some suggestions: Although there are challenges to integrating medical devices and systems, the report stresses that health care facilities should be actively engaged in the process—albeit cautiously. An inventory of interfaced devices and systems, including software versions, should be kept. Hospitals should follow best practices as described in the International Electrotechnical Commissioner’s standards (available on the International Organization for Standardization’s Web site). When making changes to interfaced equipment, all stakeholders should be involved (and this includes nurses). Finally, before any broad system modifications are implemented, testing should be carried out to ensure everything works as expected.

Caregiver distractions from smartphones and other mobile devices

The risk: While much has been said about the security considerations associated with the use of smartphones, tablet computers, and other handheld devices, another topic that is starting to get attention is the potential for substandard patient care or even physical harm to patients if caregivers are distracted by their devices. Making mistakes or missing information as a result of distraction isn’t the only problem. Caregivers who are distracted by their devices may miss clues about the patient’s condition or cause patients to question the quality of their care.

Some suggestions: According to the report, staff should be educated about the risks associated with the use of smartphones and mobile devices, especially the potential for digital distractions that affect patient care. Hospitals should come up with a “mobile device management strategy” that includes appropriate use of the devices, including specific measures users must take to ensure safety and security. Hospitals may also want to consider restricting personal use of these devices during patient care activities.

Other hazards that topped the list for 2013 include the following:

  • air embolism hazards
  • inattention to the needs of pediatric patients when using technologies that may have been  designed for use in adults (such as radiology, oxygen concentrators, computerized provider order-entry systems, and electronic medical records)
  • inadequate reprocessing of endoscopic devices and surgical instruments

Click here to request a copy of the full report.—Amy M. Collins, editor

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One comment

  1. I’ve been in Healthcare IT for over 25 years and no matter what system you have you can’t stop the users from clicking on the wrong patient. I’ve seen incidents where someone changed the First name, DOB, SSN, Address, Insurance; basically every piece of demographic data and couldn’t figure out that maybe it was the wrong patient. “You can’t fix stupid”.

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