The vital role of technology in improving patient safety  

The right application of technology can enhance clinician communication, improve medication safety, reduce potential medical errors and improve the overall patient experience.

June 13, 2019 Wayne Miller, Healthcare Director EMEA, Zebra Technologies

Meeting the global demand for healthcare services presents clinicians and medical staff with a range of challenges, from securing patient data, supporting aging populations, short staffing, meeting strict targets and, unfortunately, dealing with problems when things go wrong. Patient safety is a serious global public concern. Estimates show that in high income countries, as many as one in 10 patients is harmed in some way while receiving hospital care, with nearly 50 per cent of accidents being preventable. Globally, the annual cost of medication errors has been estimated at €42 billion.

Medical errors are reported to be the third-leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer. A recent Johns Hopkins study claims that more than 250,000 deaths in the U.S. every year occur through medical errors. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that strategies to reduce the rate of adverse events in the European Union could help prevent more than 750,000 harm-inflicting medical errors every year, leading to over 3.2 million fewer days of hospitalisation, 260,000 fewer incidents of permanent disability, and 95,000 fewer deaths per year. As a result, it’s no surprise that calls for safer health systems and high-quality legislation on patient safety are growing.

Technology has a role to play. The right application of technology can enhance clinician communication, improve medication safety, reduce potential medical errors and improve the overall patient experience. At the heart of this digital transformation of healthcare is the use of printing technology and mobile computers to help reduce human errors and ensure data is used to its maximum benefit, and cost effectively – thanks partly to the barcode.

Reducing human errors

One of the major causes of errors in medical care is poor quality information capture. Today, European hospitals still record essential patient data in hand-written form, increasing the risk of the wrong medicine being administered to the patient. To improve this situation, scanning and printing technologies should be used to collect and print patient information accurately and swiftly, to identify and help protect the patient.

When a patient is first admitted into a hospital, details such as date of birth, case history and allergies must be captured accurately, or it can lead to problems. The ability to obtain patient information instantly is vital and any delay caused by lost documents, smudged lettering or misspelling could prove fatal. We know that around 10 per cent of blood bags are incorrectly administered due to human error. In the case of blood transfusions, using an auto ID solution with barcode tracking from printers and mobile computers could reduce the error rate to less than 1 per cent. If patient information is accurately recorded by scanners, printers and mobile computers, there is less chance of the wrong blood type being administered to the patient.

Fatigue is a very common reason for human error and technology could help eliminate this. When mobile computing is used, information on a printed drug label can be linked back to a system that will check clinical decisions against patient medical history, at the touch of a button. In this case, technology will help enhance the safety of patients and the reputation of a medical organisation.  

Using data

Better use of data capture and analysis means a better healthcare system for the future. One way to improve healthcare provision is to look at potential mistakes in patient care and to carve out a ‘lessons learned’ manual. ‘Near misses’ refer to errors in medical practice that almost happened (such as the incorrect administration of medicines) and learning from these incidents can help drive effective staff training, improving patient safety. Today, technology can drive efficiency, safety, productivity and visibility across global healthcare. There is clear evidence that technology can save money, reduce errors and help reduce litigation culture.

Today, technology can drive efficiency, safety, productivity and visibility across global healthcare.

Barcoding healthcare

Invented in 1952 and inspired by Morse code, the barcode is enhancing processes in hospitals and the pharmaceutical sector, where there is still a reliance on handwritten documents, leading to potential errors. Instead of manually documenting treatment, barcodes and scanners can be implemented along with a patient identity management solution to accurately and quickly match patients to their records, medication and treatments. This ensures mistakes are kept to a minimum, while patients receive the right care.

The benefits can also be seen across an entire healthcare facility, ensuring care teams can communicate and work together to assist multiple patients, by adopting healthcare mobility solutions. These solutions enable hospital staff to reliably communicate with each other and quickly and securely provide critical medical information. Patient data can also be collected and shared in real-time, providing access to patient vitals, diagnoses, imaging and much more. This all leads to workflow efficiency improvements and a reduction in false alarms, notifications and most importantly, fatalities.

The barcode is even being used to monitor the health of the institution itself. From physical assets like an MRI machine to the staff, it can help enhance real-time data sharing and analytics, making the facility even more efficient and effective – and safer.

References available on request.