The Hospital May Be The Most Dangerous Place

by Mark Wechsler | Arrow Systems Integration

If you are sick, the hospital can be the worst place to go. You have likely heard this old adage before. It is based on the reasoning that you could be exposed to further viruses, bacteria, and countless other things that could make your condition worse.

There really are a number of reasons to think that hospitals are dangerous places beyond the obvious bugs and infections you might pick up. Quite a few hazards have nothing to do with exposure to unforeseen contaminants. What if you have a heart problem and no one answers the ECG alarm? What happens when the defibrillator doesn’t work because its battery won’t hold a charge? Does it matter if there is confusion regarding programming the infusion pump and your medication is administered incorrectly?

The ECRI Institute, an independent organization specializing in patient care safety and quality, recently warned of a number of issues that, if not addressed, could result in patient harm. For example:

  • Alarm Fatigue – nurses and physicians may become immune to the constant noise and frequency with which alarms occur in a busy care unit. Similar to the ring of your telephone, if it sounds all the time, you may tend to respond more slowly than necessary. The right person needs to recognize an alarm at the right time for it to be effective.
  • Critical Device Failure – portable defibrillators, like many devices, are battery powered and when they fail, it is often the result of battery failure. The failure can be as simple as the device not being charged or the battery’s age. Portable devices require constant maintenance to assure power packs are charged and capable of delivering the necessary continuous amperage (e.g., C – rating) and voltage.
  • Inappropriate Medical Device Use – with more than 7.5 million Americans receiving home care, the presence of increasingly complicated medical equipment is becoming greater in the home. Initial education and consistent follow-up is often required to assure user proficiency and effectiveness.

The ability to mitigate the negative impact of alarm fatigue, equipment failure, and inappropriate device usage, as with many other hospital “dangers”, by using advanced communications services to assure maintenance and care delivery processes are effectively followed. In the case of alarm fatigue, the first step is often to make certain that responses are handled by care giver’s having specific roles and responsibilities. Automated messaging can then be implemented to further improve the efficiency and speed of staff responses by assuring the correct individuals are automatically informed and respond to a given situation (e.g., such as an ECG alarm.) These same automated services can also be used to track care giver responses to assure timely, positive action and to escalate notification to backup resources when key milestones (e.g., too much time has elapsed) are reached. The same approach can be used to facilitate critical equipment maintenance processes to keep clinical engineering informed of each device’s testing status, scheduled maintenance requirements, and the need for immediate attention to assure critical equipment reliability and availability.

Advanced communication services ability to proactively inform and trigger care giver response, though often overlooked, can play an important role in improving the consistency and effectiveness of these and many other healthcare processes. How we proactively inform, notify, and track care giver as part of the healthcare delivery process is often the key to effectiveness and possibly making the hospital a little less dangerous place to go.

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