Guest Column | June 11, 2018

The Future Of Patient Safety Points To Technology

By Peter Ziese, PhD, MD, Philips Monitoring Analytics & Therapeutic Care

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Patient safety is one of the leading concerns within the healthcare industry worldwide. There are 440,000 preventable adverse events that contribute to patient deaths in U.S. hospitals every year, making preventable diseases the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer. Additionally, approximately one in 10 hospitalized patients experience harm due to medical errors, and of those one in 10, at least 50 percent were preventable medical errors. Decreasing medical errors and improving patient outcomes are key priorities for people across the healthcare industry, but reaching these goals has proven to be an ongoing challenge.

In a recent Philips-sponsored survey in the U.S., 73 percent of physician leaders and 79 percent of nurse leaders said that patient safety keeps them up at night, with incomplete data, inconsistent care delivery and alarm fatigue as the top threats to patient safety for physician and nurse leaders collectively. With the number of in-hospital patient transports between departments, it is often difficult for caregivers to keep up and have clear visibility into a patient’s condition, especially when departmental systems may be operating independently of one another. Clinicians aren’t able to control all factors when it comes to patient safety, but technology is helping close the care gap. Patient monitoring solutions can play an essential role in addressing patient needs and improving the patient experience, as well as have the opportunity to reduce preventable medical errors across the care continuum. Through advancements in the healthcare industry, health systems have the potential to better address patient safety concerns by providing more complete data and consistent care while reducing alarm fatigue.

Equipping Clinicians With Smart Solutions

A significant industry concern is the lack of patient data. According to the Philips-sponsored study, 74 percent of physicians and nurses said that a lack of patient data during a transport between departments is perceived as a risk to patients. Especially when dealing with critical care patients, time is of the essence, but stopping to manually input information into a monitoring system wastes time and leaves room for error. Continuous monitoring solutions can address this concern, as patient data is steadily captured and integrated with the EMR for virtually gap-free patient records wherever they are in the hospital – from admission to discharge or in transport from department to department. Complete patient data gives clinicians a comprehensive view into a patient’s condition, allowing caregivers to provide the best care for their patient’s current state.

Enabling virtually gap-free data is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to patient safety. Complete data goes hand-in-hand with consistent care delivery. Seven out of ten nurse and physician leaders surveyed said inconsistent care delivery is one of the biggest threats to patient safety. Rather than random spot checks on patients’ vital signs, newer patient monitoring systems can obtain patient vital signs continuously and notify the caregiver through smart algorithms for early identification, providing clinicians with the information they need to intervene earlier and provide more timely and consistent treatment. Enhanced patient monitoring solutions can be some of the most effective tools for clinicians to ensure they are taking care of patients’ needs in an efficient and consistent manner. Artificial intelligence–enabled solutions in particular are promising, as they can adapt to specific patient populations’ monitoring needs and can help clinicians make decisions faster.

In recent years, in an effort to improve care, tools have been introduced in health systems that incorporate smart alarms that alert the care team when a patient’s condition is changing. These alarms have become a double-edged sword: on the one hand, they promptly alert clinicians and nurses to patients’ issues when needed; on the other hand, they can be so sensitive that they often result in false alarms. Due to this, clinicians are often forced to make judgment calls about what is and isn’t an urgent alarm, resulting in the very issue that advanced technologies aim to avoid: human error. In fact, 79 percent of nurse leaders say that alarm fatigue is a danger to patient care. Technologies that can help clinicians triage and prioritize alarms are critical to enhance patient safety. By setting smarter alarm limits, clinicians can reduce non-actionable alarms, drastically decreasing stress for both patients and clinical staff. Solutions like early warning scoring (EWS) technologies obtain a number of real-time patient vital signs and produce a single benchmark that alerts clinicians if the patient is showing signs of distress. Instead of managing several separate alarms, caregivers can rely on a single alarm.

Continuing The Patient Safety Conversation

Challenges associated with patient safety persist, but technology can help better address them. The healthcare industry recognizes the importance of technology and aims to provide clinicians with smarter alarms and more seamless solutions that can help lower the chances of preventable adverse events, while improving patient care. With the pressure on clinicians to provide efficient and effective care to their patients, the entire healthcare industry – providers and vendors – need to ensure that clinicians have access to innovative technology that sets them up for success.

As the conversation around patient safety continues in 2018, the industry will see technology have a heightened focus on connected solutions that use AI and clinical-decision support tools. Connected care technology with machine learning capabilities will empower clinicians to make proactive care decisions. By aiding clinicians with the most crucial data points at the time needed most, they have the opportunity to reduce unfavorable patient outcomes and improve patient care. These solutions also allow for integration of data from monitors to the EHR wherever in the hospital, limiting the room for lack of data and inconsistent care. With the implementation of these innovative solutions, clinicians have the potential to improve patient care and outcomes across the industry.

About The Author

By Peter Ziese, PhD, MD, is head of sales and marketing at Philips Monitoring Analytics & Therapeutic Care.