Healthcare News & Insights

Use teamwork to cut back on medical errors

Medical errors have been getting a great deal of attention lately, mostly because of claims that they’re one of the top causes of death in the country. Some professionals doubt the truth of this viewpoint. But regardless of its accuracy, hospitals still need to reduce their rates of preventable errors – and improving teamwork may make a big difference. 

GettyImages-175139383A recent study published in the journal BMJ estimated that medical errors were the third leading cause of death for adults, and it called upon the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to start including medical errors on its list of deadly conditions.

However, in a piece published on a blog by the Pennsylvania Medical Society, Dr. Shyam Sabat points out the flaws in the BMJ study – most notably, the data it used only came from Medicare patients. It didn’t include error rates from any private carriers.

The blog post argues that, because Medicare patients are generally older and sicker than the rest of the population, conclusions from the research can’t be applied to the country at large. Due to this fact and other issues with the research (including a relatively small sample size), Dr. Sabat is asking BMJ to retract the study and apologize to the medical community.

Getting that request granted may prove to be a tall order, even if the BMJ study is found to be inaccurate. And it might be even harder for hospitals to ignore the attention the study’s already placed on medical errors.

Team training works

Instead of going on the defensive, a better approach for hospitals would be to take genuine steps to reduce rates of medical errors. Another recent study found a significant relationship between effective teamwork among hospital staff and low error rates.

As written in a press release, the study was conducted by Rice University, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the University of Central Florida, the U.S. Department of Defense and the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. It looked at the impact “team training” had on hospital employees.

Team training is specifically designed to improve staff members’ team-based knowledge. It boosts teamwork skills, which improves problem-solving interactions by encouraging the medical team to work together to find better solutions. Other skills developed through team training include communication, cooperation and leadership skills.

And, according to researchers, team training pays off. Looking at the results of over 120 previous studies, researchers found that medical errors were cut by almost 20%, and clinical performance improved by 34%.

In addition, staff members’ ability to learn new skills increased by 31%, and their on-the-job applications of these skills improved by 25%. Financial outcomes of healthcare organizations also improved, as did patient satisfaction.

These results show that it’s worthwhile to incorporate team training into your hospital’s general training regimen for staff members.

Better teamwork has the potential to reduce medical errors while offering many other benefits to your facility. And as healthcare delivery becomes more focused on patients’ outcomes, making sure the entire care team is on the same page will be even more crucial.

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