Health technology continues to get more advanced. And while this can improve patient care, it also opens up hospitals to a new set of dangers they may not have imagined before. What should your facility have its eyes on for 2017? To give facilities guidance, the ECRI Institute has issued its annual list of top health technology hazards.
Top pitfalls to avoid
According to a report from ECRI, here are the 10 riskiest areas facilities need to focus on:
- Infusion errors. Mistakes with patient infusions may be deadly to patients. Although many large-volume infusion pumps have built-in safety mechanisms to help prevent IV errors, they can’t stop all problems. One big issue that can slip through the cracks is “IV free flow,” which is when medication constantly flows into the patient’s body unrestricted. Staff can keep errors like this from happening by inspecting the infusion pump for physical damage and checking the drip chamber under the medication reservoir for unexpected medication flow.
- Inadequate cleaning of complex reusable instruments. A recent rash of infections attributed to the use of duodenoscopes in hospitals illustrates the importance of making sure reusable medical devices and equipment are thoroughly cleaned. All steps should be followed when sanitizing these instruments, and staff should be regularly reminded of the correct cleaning protocol.
- Missed ventilator alarms. If staff don’t respond to ventilator alarms in a timely manner, patients may be in danger. However, due to problems like alarm fatigue and notification failures, the alarms can be easily missed. Because the reasons why ventilator alarms fail are different for each facility, hospitals must perform their own analyses to see where their individual vulnerabilities are, so they can take the steps to fix them.
- Undetected opioid-induced respiratory depression. Respiratory depression caused by opioids is a significant issue for hospitals. Even relatively healthy patients can fall victim to respiratory depression, which can lead to brain injury or death if not detected quickly. Patients are especially at risk if they’re taking other drugs with a sedative effect, have sleep apnea or accidentally receive more medication than intended. Your best bet for avoiding this problem is to use devices that continuously monitor patients on opioids for signs of respiratory depression.
- Infection risks from heater-cooler devices used in surgery. Heater-cooler devices can cause patients to develop infections during heart surgery. It’s not exactly known how infections occur with these devices. But it was speculated that the water in the device, which shouldn’t come in direct contact with the patient, may be contaminated and spread germs to patients. So staff should make sure patients aren’t exposed to the water – especially by breathing in exhaust air from the devices.
- Software management gaps. If a hospital’s software isn’t up to date, staff can miss key safety alerts. It also puts a facility’s cybersecurity at risk, as systems are more vulnerable to hackers and cyberattacks. It’s a good idea to maintain a database or repository with all your hospital’s software programs that lists which version your facility’s currently using. That makes it easier for IT staff to keep up with when programs need to be updated.
- Occupational radiation hazards in hybrid ORs. Clinical staff working in operating rooms that have built-in X-ray imaging systems may experience negative effects from regular exposure to radiation. And unlike staff who work in radiology, hybrid OR staff are often less knowledgeable about protecting themselves from radiation exposure on a daily basis. It’s critical to train hybrid OR staff on radiation protection and provide them with equipment/strategies to minimize their exposure.
- Automated medication dispensing cabinet errors. If automated dispensing cabinets aren’t stocked and set up correctly, the wrong doses of medications could be distributed to patients. Hospitals should take caution to make sure the correct medications are placed in cabinets and that staff know exactly where each drug should be found.
- Surgical stapler misuse and malfunctions. Because it takes a great deal of precision to operate a surgical stapler, the devices can often cause issues that affect patients’ recovery. Complications from misuse include tissue damage, unexpected bleeding and intraoperative hemorrhaging. That’s why it’s essential that any staff who use surgical staplers are familiar with how they work and know how to properly select the right staple size to close the patient’s wound.
- Device failures caused by cleaning products and practices. Using the wrong cleaning products for a piece of equipment may cause it to malfunction or wear out quickly. And there aren’t often any visual warning signs before device failure happens. Hospitals can’t use a “one-size-fits-all” cleaning approach for devices, so they must keep multiple cleaning products on site. Staff should be aware of which cleaning methods are compatible with different devices – and which ones they should avoid.