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11 November 2018
By Wayne Miller, Healthcare Director EMEA, Zebra Technologies
The delivery of global healthcare today presents clinicians and other medical staff with a range of challenges. These include: securing patient data, dealing with an aging population, short staffing, meeting strict targets and, unfortunately, dealing with increasing litigation cases when things go wrong. Indeed, patient safety is a serious global public concern. Estimates show that in high income countries, as many as one in 10 patients is harmed while receiving hospital care, with nearly 50 per cent of accidents being preventable.
While statistics like this may seem like hyperbole, the stark reality is that medical errors are reported to be the third-leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer. A recent Johns Hopkins study claims more than 250,000 deaths in the U.S. every year from medical errors.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that strategies to reduce the rate of adverse events in the European Union would lead to the prevention of more than 750,000 harm-inflicting medical errors per year. This, in turn, would lead 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, calls for safer health systems and high-quality legislation on patient safety are growing in weight.
Fortunately, help is at hand in the form of technology. The right application of technology can enhance clinician communication, improve medication safety, reduce potential medical errors and boost the overall patient experience. At the heart of this medical revolution is the use of printing technology and mobile computers to ensure smooth operations are achieved in hospitals. This form of technology can help reduce human errors, ensure data is used to its maximum benefit and, perhaps most importantly, drive cost savings.
Reducing Human Errors
One of the major errors still taking place in medical care today is clumsy information capture. In fact, it might come as a surprise to learn that even in 2018, most European hospitals still record essential patient data in hand-written form. To improve this situation, scanning and printing technologies should be used to collect and print patient information accurately and swiftly.
When a patient is first admitted into a hospital ward, details such as date of birth, case history and allergies must be captured accurately. If this information is not recorded correctly, it can have a negative result. Indeed, the immediate recall of patient information is vital, and any delay caused by lost documents, smudged lettering or misspelling could prove fatal. As an example, around 10 per cent of blood bags are incorrectly administered due to human error. In the case of blood transfusions, using an auto ID system with barcode tracking from printers and mobile computers could reduce the error rate to less than 1 per cent.
Naturally, there is a far greater risk of the wrong medicine being administered if details are hand-written. This is especially true if blood samples are cryogenically frozen for many years, to be used in a later medical treatment or process. Furthermore, printing technology can improve the vital administration of patients giving and receiving blood. 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 when it comes to the process of cross-match labelling.
Fatigue is an extremely common reason for human error. After a long shift when a vital decision is due, technology could assist to eradicate the margin for error. For example, if mobile computing is used, information on a printed drug label can be linked back to a system that will check decisions against 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.
Data Use in Healthcare
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.
In healthcare today, there is an expression known as “near misses”. This applies when errors in medical practice almost took place, such as the incorrect administration of medicines. Properly captured and learned from, these near misses can drive effective staff training for the future. Similarly, information sharing is important in finding new treatments and possible cures for life-threatening diseases.
While there are undoubtedly benefits to data sharing and analysis, data security must be paramount to all endeavours. Advice to healthcare organisations is to make sure a stringent data security strategy is in place. With the EU-wide General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) effective from May 25 2018, there is a great incentive for the healthcare industry in the EU to get it right due to GDPR-related penalties. Failure to protect patient data could result in an individual organisation landing a fine of €400,000. And this movement is set to impact data protection regulation across the globe.
Driving Cost Savings
The use of printing technology and mobile computers has another very useful selling point: enabling cost savings within the healthcare system. One area where cost savings need to be reduced is in litigation.
Unsafe medical practices and medication errors are a leading cause of avoidable harm in healthcare. Globally, the cost of medication errors has been estimated at €42bn annually. The use of technology can help minimise litigation by ensuring vital information such as when to administer the right drug or blood bag for a transfusion is clearly labelled or recorded.
Technology: The Future Diagnosis
Today, technology can drive efficiency, safety, productivity and visibility across global healthcare. There is clear evidence that technology can save money and help reduce litigation culture. In the future, it’s possible that access to medical records will be conducted via smartphones, the same way that one might see bank account details.
There’s no doubt that printing and mobile computing technology can play a huge part in running a more efficient healthcare system. The challenge today is that large parts of the healthcare industry are still stuck in the dark ages, using handwritten forms instead of capturing information electronically. This must change if clinicians are to deliver care that matches our modern, digitally-focused lifestyles.