Healthcare News & Insights

Parents, family members can help docs spot medical errors

Unfortunately, errors happen. Knowing how to recognize them ASAP is essential to preventing unnecessary patient harm. Regarding young patients, providers can take a page from parents and guardians in identifying where mistakes happen in the care delivery process. 

Mother And Daughter Talking To Consultant In Hospital RoomAccording to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics, close to one in 10 parents noticed mistakes in their child’s care that doctors didn’t.

As discussed in an article from Reuters about the study, researchers from Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital looked at information from 383 children who were hospitalized.

The children’s parents were asked to fill out surveys about any issues they noticed regarding their child’s safety during the hospital stay. Doctors placed the issues into three categories: situations that weren’t actually safety related, medical errors and other quality issues.

Close to 9% of parents reported safety-related incidents involving their children. Out of these situations, 62% involved some kind of medical error.

How errors happened

Errors ran the gamut and included issues such as infections in poorly dressed wounds, leaving foreign bodies behind after procedures and delays in receiving pain medication. These medical errors were more likely to extend the length of the child’s hospital stay.

When asked what they thought caused these errors, many parents said a communication breakdown among staff was a significant contributing factor. Specifically, they described instances where critical information wasn’t documented in the correct child’s medical record, or when medication changes weren’t relayed to the new staff during a shift change.

Lessons learned

Although the sample size for the study was small, it brings attention to the importance of listening to the concerns of parents and other family members regarding a child’s care. Even if the parent just senses an error has occurred, clinical staff should acknowledge the parent’s feelings and investigate the issue fully, keeping the parent in the loop throughout the process.

And this concept doesn’t just apply to children. Family members of adult patients, including their own parents and spouses, can also provide insight into any problems or issues with the person’s care.

Preventable errors are all too common in patient care. A recent article in Kaiser Health News goes into detail about how many emergency department physicians become overwhelmed by a hectic workflow, combined with the administrative demands and poor design of their electronic health records (EHR) systems, and make big data entry mistakes.

Hospital care can be just as hectic in other departments, and doctors and nurses need any help they can get in pointing out potential issues. So patients’ family and friends can be an extra layer of defense to keep preventable errors from negatively affecting their recovery.

Ultimately, providers need to do all they can to keep the lines of communication open – both between fellow clinicians and patients’ loved ones – to avoid errors in patient care.

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