Healthcare News & Insights

How an ‘error room’ could save patients’ lives

When it comes to preventing medical errors while caring for patients, it’s one thing to tell hospital staff to follow protocol. It’s another thing to show them how to apply that knowledge in a realistic setting. 

137875947How do you do that?

You could follow the example of some facilities that have created a “Room of Errors.”

The room is set up like a normal hospital room, complete with a “patient” (usually a mannequin). However, it also contains several mistakes that staff must uncover.

Some are obvious, like surgical tools on the floor. Others are more subtle, like settings on equipment monitoring patients’ vital signs.

Examples of success

As part of an annual intensive training exercise during this year’s Patient Safety Awareness Week (which ends March 15), Pensacola Naval Hospital put its staff to the test with a simulated colonoscopy procedure in its Room of Errors, as described in an article in the Pensacola News Journal.

Teams of staff competed against each other to see which team could spot the most errors in the fastest time. Examples of problems included a used needle sitting on the floor, the operating table not being secured correctly and a member of the surgical staff using a cell phone instead of participating in the patient check.

Another facility, the University of Virginia Medical Center (UVA), has a permanent Room of Errors as part of an ongoing pilot program to improve patient safety.

The room, configured to resemble an inpatient room in UVA’s pediatric intensive care unit, contains several potential safety hazards that staff must identify. They range from incorrect medication dosages to problems with ventilator hookups.

Teams of clinical staff, from all levels of expertise, write down the errors that they spot, both individually and as a group. The goal is, once they collaborate and discuss the mistakes they find — and the ones they didn’t — team members will learn from each others’ observations.

The program started with pediatric clinical staff, and researchers plan to expand it to different departments in the future. According to an NPR article about the program, participants have reported they immediately apply what they learned to caring for their patients.

So expanding the program could have a significant effect on the facility’s safety rates down the line.

Giving clinical staff similar opportunities to participate in collaborative, hands-on learning may be helpful for your hospital as well. If staffers have the chance to practice spotting errors, they’ll be better at it and patients will be safer.


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