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Technology and Patient Safety in 2017

A nurse at work in a hospital

Patient safety is a major priority for hospitals and other health care facilities across the country. There are always a number of patient safety improvement initiatives and discussions in play, especially as technological advances in in healthcare play a growing role in increasing patient safety.

Understanding the Components of Patient Safety

Patient safety involves more than just protecting patients from obvious risks. Initiatives should involve a proactive approach to patient care, including working with family members and other caregivers to coordinate care and produce safe outcomes.

Preventing physical harm is not enough to ensure safety. The overall experience of a patient — whether he or she is having a medical exam in an outpatient setting, delivering a baby, or staying in the hospital for prolonged care and treatment — plays a role in the concept of patient safety.

Electronic Health/Medical Records (EHR/EMR)

Electronic health records (EHR), also called electronic medical records (EMR), have helped to improve safety drastically. Most medical offices and hospitals have eliminated paper charts, which carry a greater risk of error and misplacement, and replaced them with electronic versions that are easy to use and track. However, according to a study conducted among nurses and reported by EHR Intelligence, those in the nursing field often express frustration with the state of EHR systems.

Using the computer to document notes and track patient information can slow down your workflow and productivity. If care providers constantly have to log in and out of the system, search for patient records, and enter the information while having a discussion with a patient, they may find it difficult to focus on the patient.

When assessing the results of a risk management and liability prevention study published in “Physician Insurer,” it’s easy to see how electronic records have improved safety. Adverse events in pneumonia patients are 25 percent lower when using EHR, while cardiovascular surgery patients are 31 percent less likely to have post-surgical adverse events. The risk of acquiring infections in post-op patients is 36 percent lower. Hospital emergency departments also see 30 percent fewer medication errors, 27 percent fewer adverse events, and 25 percent fewer complication-related events with EHR systems in place.

The systems available for electronic health records might not be perfect yet, but they’re certainly playing a role in improving patient safety. Those involved in the development and improvement of top EHR systems often solicit feedback from nurses working with the software every day to make EHR systems easier to use and simplify processes.

Preventive Technology

Preventing accidents and adverse events is an important goal in improving patient safety. Technological advancements can help in this regard. For instance, wire-free heart rate monitoring systems can reduce trips and falls when patients are getting out of bed to use the restroom.

EarlySense is another new system that monitors patients while they’re in bed, sending an alert to the nurse when the patient hasn’t moved in a while or if the patient is out of bed. Having the system keep a close “eye” on the patient helps reduce bedsores and other wounds, as well as reduce the chance of falls, since the nurse can come into the room right away to assist with movement.

Integration with Personal Devices

Diabetic patients have seen major advancements in their care and treatment options over the past decade. Type 1 diabetics used to give injections to themselves multiple times per day, but the invention of the insulin pump made it easier to control blood sugar without the constant need for pokes. The pump also improved dosing and blood sugar regulation, since it allowed patients to receive smaller amounts of insulin when needed.

Continuous blood sugar monitoring is another example of technology that has come a long way in the last few years. Instead of having to track blood sugar data to share with the physician, certain testers can integrate and share information with personal cell phones, tablets, and other mobile devices, as well as the devices of the treating physician.

When the nurse or physician works to create a treatment plan, he or she can look at real-time data to see spikes and drops in the patient’s blood sugar. In urgent cases, the assigned nurse or doctor can take emergency action to help a patient who isn’t able to administer insulin or take glucose to control his blood sugar.

Health and Preventive Care

Personal technology has also played a role in helping patients take control of their own health and wellness. Wearable fitness devices became mainstream just a few years ago, motivating wearers to get up and walk around, compete against their friends and family in step challenges, and become more active. These devices can often sync with nutrition apps to help people make healthier food choices and lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. That same data can be shared with nurses and doctors involved in patient care to encourage accountability and make suggestions for improved lifestyle choices.

Taking an Active Role

Furthering your education can lead to leadership opportunities in health care that may revolve around advocacy in patient safety. Pursuing a Master of Science degree in nursing can help you to develop skills in evidence-based decision making, compassion, and preventive care, which can help you be a more effective advocate and nurse.

With so many improvements and changes to technology, it may feel difficult to keep up. Fortunately, new inventions have made it easier to coordinate care among different providers, keeping everyone involved on the same page in terms of medications, allergies, procedures performed, and risks. Technology continues to play a major role in patient safety in 2017 and will likely remain as one of the top issues among health care professionals.