By Christina Orlovsky, contributor
March 18, 2010 - Earlier this month (March 7-13), health care providers across the country recognized Patient Safety Awareness Week, a nationwide educational and awareness effort to improve patient safety in hospitals and health care organizations. While the week of recognition has come and gone, the critical responsibility of health care professionals to focus on patient safety and quality of care remains present day to day, week to week and year to year.
Luckily, the onus for patient safety does not lie solely on human hands. Advances in technology have helped out tremendously. Here’s a look into three recent and developing technology trends that help nurses do their jobs more efficiently, effectively and, most importantly, with safety and error reduction in mind:
Automating Medication Administration
In 2007, the Joint Commission, an organization dedicated to ensuring health care quality and safety, joined forces with its international arm, Joint Commission International, to create Patient Safety Solutions as a part of the World Health Organization (WHO) World Alliance for Patient Safety. Defined as “any system design or intervention that has demonstrated the ability to prevent or mitigate patient harm stemming from the processes of health care,” the organizations outlined nine patient safety solutions to work toward improving. Chief among them: look-alike, sound-alike medication names.
With medication error high on the list of patient-safety concerns, numerous technological advances have been made to help health care workers in the dissemination of medication. Automated medication dispensing systems are widespread; and many facilities use bar-coding technology to match patient identification with medication.
One recent development for nurses is AnywhereRN, a web-based application from Mountain View, California-based Omnicell, which allows nurses to manage medication administration from any computer or workstation in a patient area, allowing them to work more efficiently, without interruption that may lead to medication error.
“Addressing the need for remote management of medications, Anywhere RN will help health care providers increase operational efficiencies and improve clinical outcomes for their patients,” said Randall Lipps, president, chairman and chief executive officer of Omnicell.
Tracking Surgical Tools
Among the many responsibilities of operating room (OR) staff is the count of surgical tools before and after every procedure. Hospitals implement checks and double checks to ensure every item is accounted for; yet, sometimes, the undesirable happens: the count is off and something – a sponge, a clip – is left inside a patient.
In a 2008 study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, researchers reviewed incidences of retained foreign objects (RFO) in surgical patients and recommended that: “Relying on counting as the primary mechanism to avoid RFOs is unreliable, and investigating new technologies designed to achieve reliable counts is warranted.”
In recent years, health care device manufacturers have developed such technologies as The Safety-Sponge System from Temecula, California-based SurgiCount Medical. A sponge-counting and documentation system, the system codes all sponges with a unique serial number embedded in a barcode. A portable scanner automates the sponge count and documents it through the system’s software, reducing human error and improving accuracy in the OR.
Other similar systems use radiofrequency identification (RFID) to track inventory and supplies, as well as to improve patient identification systems through barcoded and tagged tracking and documentation systems.
Identifying Patients with Biometrics
With more than 300 million people in the United States, there are bound to be more than a few with the same name – and even the same date of birth. For admissions personnel in hospitals and health care facilities across the nation, ensuring the correct match between a patient and his or her medical record is paramount to that patient’s safety.
For this reason, facilities are beginning to implement new methods of patient identification, relying on seemingly futuristic technology to address concerns of duplicate records, identity theft and patient privacy. By scanning patients’ fingerprints, palms and even the irises of their eyes, health care admissions staff are able to increase accuracy of identification without verbalizing the patient’s personal information.
One such technology, created by Foothill Ranch, California-based Fujitsu, is PalmSecure, a biometric authentication system that scans the unique vein pattern in a person’s palm for accurate identification. More unique than a fingerprint, the palm vein patterns are captured by a near-infrared light and are then matched to pre-registered patients’ data to verify identity.
Eye Controls, a Chantilly, Virginia-based technology company, created a similar system that uses the unique characteristics of the iris for patient recognition. The company’s SafeMatch identification system aims to improve patient safety by reducing four common causes for error: duplicate records, data filing errors, relying on the wrong record, and benefits fraud and identity theft.
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