Despite new technology and evidence-based guidelines, medical mistakes happen too frequently and may lead to as many as 400,000 preventable deaths each year.
But two new programs, launched at the University of Virginia Medical Center, offer a new approach to patient safety that may prevent medical errors, WVTF Public Radio reports.
This year the organization introduced a simulation lab in the pediatric intensive care unit. The "Room of Errors" features high-tech infant mannequins attached to monitors. When doctors and nurses enter the lab, they have seven minutes to determine what is wrong.
As part of a recent exercise, a doctor-nurse team worked together to spot 54 problems with the scenario, including the fact the ventilator wasn't plugged into the correct outlet, the heat wasn't turned on and the potassium chloride was programmed at the wrong concentration.
The interpersonal, team-based learning approach helps doctors and nurses improve their ability to make decisions together and communicate with one another, Valentina Brashers, M.D., co-director of the Center for Interprofessional Research and Education, an effort headquartered at UVa's Schools of Nursing and Medicine, told WVTF.
"Knowing that there are others that you can work to think with you and share with you their concerns as you work through difficult problems makes care provision a much more enjoyable and rewarding activity. It reduces staff turnover. It creates an environment where we feel like we're all in it together with the patient," she said.
The pilot proved so successful that the medical center intends to roll it out to the entire hospital.
In its quest to eliminate medical mistakes at the organization, UVa also launched a second patient safety initiative that calls for hospital administrators to meet each morning to talk about any problems that occurred in the previous 24 hours, according to a second WVFT article.
The "Situation Room" features white boards and monitors, where administrators review every new infection and unexpected death and then visit the places where the problems took place.
Sometimes the solutions are easy fixes, such as a receptionist who removed a mat that caused patients to trip at the entrance of an outpatient building. Others, caused by communication problems, are more complicated, Richard Shannon, M.D., executive vice president for health affairs, told the publication. To address it, Shannon wants to shake up the medical hierarchy where the physician sits at the top.
"The physician may spend 20 minutes at the bedside a day. The nurse is there 24/7 and has about 13 times more direct contact with the patient than does the physician," he told WVFT. "You can't have someone at the head of the pyramid who is absent a lot of the time."
Finally, to encourage better communication among caregivers, patients and families, Shannon now encourages healthcare professionals to make rounds in the afternoon, when visitors are on premises.