Debates about the safety of full-body scanners at airports and data privacy concerns about electronic medical records have been hot topics in the news in the last few months. But are they the largest technology threats to personal health and patient safety?
ECRI Institute, a nonprofit organization that provides research to improve patient care, released the "Top 10 List of Health Technology Hazards for 2011." The list recommends what technology-related threats doctors and hospitals should focus on this next year in order to keep patients safe and avoid hospital errors.
In order of importance, according to ECRI:
- Dosing errors, including radiation therapy overdoses. ECRI Vice President Jim Keller pointed out that more treatment systems are available on the market, and the systems are growing more complex. With increased complexity it may easier for user error to occur, so hospitals should be particularly careful with these systems. According to the report, dosing errors are rare, but when they do occur, they have "devastating health consequences."
- Alarm overload. Many machines and devices have so many alarms that staff members may often shut them off, override them, or just simply ignore them because they become so common place (much like car alarms).
- Cross-contamination from endoscopes. If flexible endoscopes are not properly sanitized from one patient to the next they can cause infections.
- CT scans and radiation fatigue. While hard to quantify, there is increasing concern about providing patients with unnecessary scans and unnecessary exposure to radiation. As patients read more about this in the media, there is also concern that they will fear radiation and decline necessary scans.
- Data loss and IT hackers. While moving to electronic medical records will make many things easier for doctors and patients, there also concerns associated with data integrity and digital mistakes resulting in patient injury or death.
- Luer misconnections. Tubes, needles and catheters are hooked up to each other using luer connections; a misconnection could mean gases or liquids are routed incorrectly - for example, a feeding tube being hooked up to an IV catheter.
- PCA infusion pumps leading to over-sedation. PCA pumps allow patients to control the flow of a pre-programmed painkiller dose. If the pump isn't properly programmed or if an error occurs, patients may be oversedated or have other adverse reactions.
- Needle sticks. Patients are put at risk for infection when they are stuck with a needle when they shouldn't have been. Increased safety devices and training have been put in place, but it remains a problem.
- Surgical fires. Fires occurring during operations happen more often than you think and are almost 100 percent avoidable.
- Defibrillator failures and emergency room errors. Defibrillators are used to send an electric shock to the heart during emergency life-and-death situations. Equipment failure in the ER is a serious matter.