Imagine these scenarios.
A nurse inserts a feeding tube into a preterm infant’s lung rather than his stomach. The nurse fails to test the fluid to ensure the tube is in the correct organ. The infant dies days later.
A man is paralyzed when his surgeon chooses to implement a new joint replacement procedure before he or his staff can be properly trained to administer the new procedure.
Doctors and nurses dismiss a teenage girl’s high fever, labored breathing, and low blood pressure after surgery, failing to diagnose and treat her for sepsis. She dies in a matter of hours.
An estimated 400,000 people die every year from preventable errors in U.S. hospitals. While patient safety protocols are in place at hospitals across the country to prevent irreversible damage and death, there are thousands of recorded instances where hospital staff fail to adhere to those protocols. Or, in some cases, like the infant example above, the hospital did not even have a patient safety standard in place to test fluid when inserting a feeding tube into a patient.
What Is Expected Of Doctors, Nurses, And Other Caregivers In Keeping Patients Safe?
“First, do no harm.” You may have heard this phrase before, and it’s often understood to be part of the Hippocratic Oath that doctors take in medical school. That’s not entirely true.
One translation of the Hippocratic Oath reads in part: “I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous.”
Another pledge often required by medical schools, called Of the Epidemics, reads in part: “The physician must be able to tell the antecedents, know the present, and foretell the future — must mediate these things, and have two special objects in view with regard to disease, namely, to do good or to do no harm.”
What does that really mean? As patients, we all expect that care providers will do everything in their power to keep us as safe as possible, even though treatments can sometimes be risky. We expect that providers will seek to understand nuances of a patient’s health before prescribing or administering treatment. We expect that providers will listen to each other, and not cut corners or ignore information about a patient’s health. In short, we expect them to be present and engaged in patient care.
Health systems, hospitals and all other care facilities are required to follow a core set of safety standards. This year’s patient safety goals established by The Joint Commission include:
- Identifying patients correctly
- Improving staff communication
- Using medicines safely
- Using alarms safely
- Preventing infections
- Identifying patient safety risks
- Preventing mistakes in surgery
Is this reality? Evidence of an estimated 400,000 annual preventable deaths caused by patient safety issues proves that this is not reality today.
What Are Common Patient Safety Issues?
Patient safety is – or should be – the top concern for every single department in a healthcare facility, from the emergency room, to the cafeteria to housekeeping. It’s not just up to doctors and nurses to ensure their patients are safe. For example, even maintenance and IT departments have a responsibility to keep patients safe by employing and maintaining technology and devices to monitor patient vitals. Thus, there are thousands of issues at any given facility to watch out for.
These are a few of the most common patient safety issues across the country, which continue to persist year after year:
- Hand Hygiene
Directly linked to hospital-acquired infections and deaths over the past several years, hand hygiene is one of the most talked-about patient safety issues. Though hospitals do have standards and policies in place (you may notice hand sanitizer stations outside every hospital room), the trick now is staff adherence to those policies.
- Medication Errors
Medication errors happen when prescribing, dispensing or administering medication. According to the FDA, medication errors are considered preventable. This could mean receiving multiple medications that react adversely to each other, or receiving medications that react adversely to conditions a patient already has. It could even mean NOT receiving needed medication. And, increasingly in today’s environment, it could mean medication overdose during surgery or hospitalization. Cases abound where doctors and nurses either failed to prescribe, or failed to administer, the correct medication, causing irreparable patient harm and death.
- Diagnostic Errors
In 2016, the Institute of Medicine (now called the National Academy of Medicine) issued a report stating that 10 percent of patient deaths where due to diagnostic errors; they are also one of the most common reasons for medical malpractice claims. These errors occur when a diagnosis is missed, incorrect or delayed, and can cause preventable harm and death.
- Facility Safety
Facility safety ranges widely, from building construction and maintenance, to water and sewage treatment, to air conditioning and ventilation, and contributes to any manner of patient safety concerns. For example, handlebars installed and maintained properly can prevent patients from falling and injuring themselves. Proper ventilation and water treatment can help prevent bacteria growth and infections.
- Care Transitions
Communication between caregivers is essential for patient safety when transitioning patients to another facility. Communication breakdowns are the culprit for lost information about a patient, often leading to medication errors and hospital readmissions.
- Over-Worked And Under-Staffed Doctors and Nurses
Long-haul truck drivers are required by law to take breaks and document mileage, for their safety and that of others on the road. The same rule applies here. Doctors and nurses cannot provide appropriate, safe patient care when they are over-worked, over-tired and have too many patients. This is a recipe for missed information, incorrect diagnoses, miscommunication and dozens of other patient safety issues.
Has A Provider Failed To Keep Your Family Safe?
Have you or a family member experienced irrevocable harm because a care provider failed to adhere to patient safety standards? Our team of expert medical malpractice attorneys can evaluate your case to determine if patient safety protocols were missed.
Harm or death caused by lack of adherence to patient safety standards are often a series of errors by several people, or an organization as a whole. You need a legal professional to gather sufficient evidence to determine if you or your loved one was harmed because of a patient safety issue.
Ross Feller Casey has an unmatched record of legal victories in all types of catastrophic injury cases, including those involving patient safety issues. In the last three years alone, the law firm has recovered well in excess of $600 million for its individual clients. Do not wait for evidence of your case to disappear. Contact Ross Feller Casey for a free consultation now.