As it stands, so-called medical errors are currently the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States. In fact, it’s estimated that at least 251,000 deaths occur each year from medical error — and, since instances of negligence often go unreported, this figure could be even higher.
Obviously, the system is broken. Nowadays, receiving treatment for certain medical conditions is statistically more dangerous than the condition itself. The sobering fact is that serious illnesses such as stroke, Alzheimer’s, and respiratory disease claim fewer lives each year than medical error.
But what if all of this could change?
A New Way of Handling Patient Information
Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts has developed a new web-based patient information tool with the explicit intent of mitigating this devastating problem. The tool seeks to prevent miscommunication during the critical handoff period — or, in other words, the shift change for medical professionals.
The development of this tool is certainly a step in the right direction. Studies have shown that medical errors, and death, are more likely to occur during handoff periods. Unfortunately, this timing makes sense. During handoff, medical professionals must communicate a lot of vital information to the incoming workers.
Appropriately, the new electronic tool seeks to smooth this transition by scanning a patient’s medical records for the most crucial information. Next, the program automatically uploads these crucial details onto a separate page. In short, this is the electronic version of a successful, and concise, verbal or written handoff that should be expected to occur between medical professionals.
The Results Seem Promising
After using this new program for a year, medical mistakes were nearly cut in half at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. And one need not be a doctor to understand that that is a big, big deal.
Needless to say, the impact such a system could have on a wider level is huge. Even though this new technology was developed in-house and is unique to Brigham and Women’s, researchers are hopeful that it can serve as a model for other institutions moving forward.
But, in the end, no amount of technological advance can compensate for a poorly-trained staff. For this reason, the Hospital didn’t just introduce the new system — it also spent considerable time training its employees on how to use it effectively.
As Dr. Stephanie Mueller, the study’s main author and an associate physician in primary care and general internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, says: “You’re not going to throw a tool in someone’s lap and say, ‘Here. Use this, and good luck.’”
Is This Tool Enough?
Undeniably, the creation of this program is a positive step. That being said, there still exists a powerful culture of corruption within our healthcare system. Although this fact is uncomfortable to discuss for many — after all, we want to trust our doctors, and most doctors are in fact trustworthy — it is important that we do.
Earlier in the year, Consumer Reports broke the story about the frightening truth of medical malpractice. Since then, we have reported on the fact that medical boards are often exceedingly corrupt, and will protect their own at the expense of most every patients’ wellbeing.
So, yes, this new web-based patient information tool is a welcome addition to healthcare protocol and should be applauded. More impressive here, however, is the amount of workplace training that accompanied the introduction of this new technology.
At the end of the day, doctor-patient relationships are built on trust, compassion, transparency, and competence — in other words, things that no amount of technology can provide.