How can hospitals and providers bring down error rates? Here are three technologies that can help—and also add important data for use in other analyses.
One would think that with all the technologies we have today, medical errors would not happen. And yet they do.
A 2013 study in the Journal of Patient Safety found 210,000 to 440,000 patients die each year from hospital errors and hospital care-caused harm. This would make medical errors the third-leading cause of death. You’ll find a good summary of that study in a ProPublica article.
So how can hospitals and providers bring error rates down and thereby save patients from undue suffering and possible death?
Here are three technologies that can help – and also add important data for use in other analyses.
1. Tech designed to improve physician data entry error.
Much has been written about the dangers that arise from doctors’ illegible handwriting. Actually, computerized physician order entry has all but eliminated this problem. However, errors in data entry are still prevalent. Sometimes those errors have a human cause, but there’s a technology fix for that too.
“The error rate for human data entry is 0.5%,” says Richard Milam, office productivity expert and president and CEO of EnableSoft. “A team of human operators performing plan updates on 10,000 customer records will probably make at least 50 errors—which to your business, and certainly for those 50 customers—is problematic. In practice, data entry and maintenance error rates are often higher. In one data center, there were 2,584 changes required for 41,568 pages entered into a health database. Of these changes, 71.1% were necessitated because of errors in the initial data entry.”
New software, generally referred to as digital employees, is now available that is designed to speed data entry and to reduce data entry errors. One example is Foxtrot, an EnableSoft product, that Milam says
can intelligently automate the routine and repetitive tasks of data entry, maintenance, integration, migration, aggregation, and testing—essentially any manual unstructured data process. The software can perform these tasks in a wide range of platforms and applications including spreadsheets, Windows-based programs, green screens (legacy systems), and web-based applications.
Sometimes the errors are inherent to the system design and actually drive human error higher. For in-depth information on patient care information system-related errors, read the report in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.
Whether you use software to improve data entry or move to systems with better, more intuitive user interfaces, always look for how the technology helps reduce time and errors in data entry. If it doesn’t address those problems, don’t buy it.
If you invest in the right systems, you’ll have cleaner and more trustworthy data to work from in other projects and analyses too!
2. Barcodes and RFID tags to track surgical items.
Both of these technologies have been around for a long time and both have passed muster in difficult and demanding environments. Adding them to hospital use and combining them with other technologies such as electronic medication administration records (eMARs) can greatly reduce hospital error rates.
For example, a barcoded patient wristband can be used with an eMAR to ensure the right patient is getting the right drug; that the patient isn’t allergic to the drug; and, that the drug does not conflict with other medications the patient is taking.
Another example would be barcoding surgical sponges for accurate sponge counts in the surgical suite. You can also barcode or RFID-tag surgical equipment and use smart cabinets for surgical supply tracking.
These technologies are fairly cheap and can substantially reduce hospital errors. They can also add helpful information to your database for use in other activities, such as inventory control and patient billing.
3. Iris and fingerprint scans for patient identity.
Determining patient identity is sometimes not as simple as asking for a name. Unconscious or badly disoriented patients cannot answer the question. Others want to conceal their identity for myriad reasons including health insurance fraud (using someone else’s insurance coverage for medical treatment) or hiding criminal activity. For example, a patient suffering from a gunshot wound might know that the police will be informed of the incident and may work to conceal their identity and the event circumstances to avoid trouble with the law.
Not knowing the patient’s identity can lead to loads of trouble for providers in both medical errors and non-payment issues. At this moment, it is still difficult—but not impossible—to obtain a patient’s identity without their cooperation. This is likely to change soon, however, as insurance and provider databases become increasingly populated with new and traditional identifiers.
You can expect fingerprint databases for patient identifying purposes to soon come online and be put to wide use. But there are newer technologies rising now too, such as iris scanning.
“Iris scanning is not the same as retinal scanning, which requires physical contact and is now seldom used,” writes Howard Ankin in his post in JDSupra Business Advisor. Ankin continues:
When iris scanning is performed, the system scans the eye using video camera technology and near infrared illumination to capture the intricate details of the unique patterns found in the iris. Using complex mathematical and statistical algorithms, it codes the pattern to immediately identify patients.
When used in a healthcare setting, this technology can be used to ensure that patients are who they claim to be and may help identify incoherent or unconscious patients in emergency departments. This can be invaluable in giving emergency room doctors access to patient charts and records, and could help prevent potential drug interactions or allergies.
You may be unable to identify patients who purposefully give you a false identity or are unconscious for now, but in the meantime you can at least cut down on other medical errors caused by patient mixups by using several existing technologies like barcoding.
Patient identity technologies can also render important data on how and when patients move through the hospital, how long they remained in each department and other information that can help you improve efficiencies in logistics, patient billing, and wait and treatment times.
All of these technologies also help reduce malpractice claims and lawsuits—another prime area that drives up provider costs and healthcare costs for patients and society at large.
A little prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say. It’s time for providers to put that ounce of technology-driven prevention to work.
The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.