Enhancing Patient Safety in 2019 and Beyond

Senior Director of Marketing

While the healthcare industry has made substantial progress in patient safety over the past 20 years, there is still much work to be done in this vital facet of medical care.

2017 study released by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and the University of Chicago found that 21 percent of adults report having personally experienced a medical error, while 31 percent said that someone else whose care they were closely involved with experienced an error. Another widely cited study estimated that more than 250,000 deaths per year are due to medical error in the U.S., making it the third-leading cause of death in the country.

At the same time, new technologies and approaches are allowing healthcare providers to tackle patient safety in innovative ways. In recognition of Patient Safety Awareness Week this March 10-16, here are four ways healthcare organizations are making every phase of their operations safer for patients.

Chatbots for High-Risk Patients 

AI-powered chatbots are already taking over recruiting in the healthcare field, but they are poised to make a major impact on patient safety as well by revolutionizing the way healthcare providers interface with patients. For example, if someone is preparing to start chemo and radiation, they don't always know what side effects are normal and which require escalation. Chatting with an intelligent bot can help determine whether the patient needs immediate attention.

Dr. Phil Marshall, Co-Founder of Conversa Health, which builds these customized chat platforms for health providers, says chatbots are an excellent way to stay on top of a patient’s clinical status, while also identifying issues that arise proactively and reducing unnecessary visits. Knowing how patients are doing between visits shows that providers care, he says, yet they don’t have the ability to call patients all the time. 

“Instead of calling patients after a hospitalization or surgery, having chats that can be completed on the patient’s own time schedule adds to their convenience and helps the clinical call center to optimize their outbound calls to those who truly need them,” Marshall says.

Better Data Management and Sharing

Sharing protected health information properly and with the patient's privacy in mind can help providers reduce readmissions, avoid medication errors and even decrease duplicate testing, says Rob McDonald, VP of Product Management for Virtru, a technology company that enables secure data sharing between care providers, insurance companies and patients.

McDonald says poor communication and lack of information are top reasons for medical errors, so providers need to be able to efficiently share patient information across facilities and departments, to ensure the best possible patient outcomes. “If you’re a smaller practice or even a smaller acute care facility, patient safety means that all parties involved have the most immediate and up-to-date information,” he says. “Enabling your team to share that quickly, easily and in a compliant manner is really critical to that coordination of care.”

Virtru and other firms are developing new data-sharing solutions for the healthcare industry that facilitate fast and secure data sharing that can help improve patient safety and privacy.

Continuous Background Screening

For healthcare employers, ensuring patient safety, creating a safe work environment for employees and mitigating risk are essential reasons to conduct criminal history checks. After a series of high-profile cases, however, many providers are realizing that conducting an initial criminal history background check at time of hire is simply not enough. The practice of post-hire background screening has significantly grown in popularity among employers that the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) named continuous monitoring as one of the top three employment screening trends for 2019.

When existing employees commit crimes, employers can’t always rely on them to disclose their transgressions. “For healthcare employers, mitigating risk, ensuring patient safety, and creating a safe work environment for employees are essential reasons to conduct post-hire, recurring criminal history checks,” Vu Do, Vice President of Compliance at PreCheck, states in a recent white paper on continuous background screening.

The benefits for healthcare employers are clear: a continuous background screening program allows employers to make highly informed employment retention decisions while demonstrating their commitment to workplace and patient safety. Background screening firms like PreCheck can help healthcare organizations implement continuous post-hire screenings with criminal history check services that can be tailored to fit any organization’s structure and policies.

Improved Air Decontamination 

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality estimates that 1 in 31 hospitalized patients has an infection acquired in the health setting at any moment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 percent of healthcare-associated infections among hospitalized patients are due to surgical-site infections. A host of new technologies have hit the market to address these issues.

For example, activTek Health Solutions has found success in the healthcare industry with ActivePure, its continuous air decontamination system. The company says the tech was studied in a U.S. hospital's operating room to determine how effective the product is in combating infectious particles from the air and surfaces. 

The company says airborne particles were reduced by 90 percent during the test period, bacteria dropped by more than 83 percent and MRSA bacteria was reduced 95 percent. “Hospitals are scrubbed with chlorine and filled with ultraviolet lights and HEPA filters,” says Aerus CEO Joe Urso. “They were really shocked when we came in and showed them the kind of impact ActivePure Technology could have.”

As healthcare gets more complicated, leaders are finding creative new technologies and practices to help their people focus on patient care and ensure the best possible results.