Report: Staffing shortages and mental health of providers are top concerns affecting patient safety
A new report by a patient safety organisation, ECRI found that staffing shortages topped the list of factors compromising patient safety. The impact of Covid-19 on the mental health of healthcare workers came second, followed by prejudice and racism in considering patient safety as the number three risk factor, according to the report. . As well as outlining the concerns, the report also offered measures to address each area of risk – such as providing wellness programs for healthcare workers or recruiting diverse staff.
In the midst of the great resignation, it’s no surprise that staffing shortages topped the top ten factors threatening patient safety. But the pandemic is not the only culprit, according to the report. Before Covid-19, the field was already facing an upcoming staff shortage, exacerbated by nurses reaching retirement age. Case in point: In 2020, the median age of registered nurses was 52, according to the report. As a result, the report recommends several courses of action for organizations, ranging from creating flexible staffing models (such as floating nurses between units as needed) to adding tele-ICU capabilities.
As a second risk factor for patient health, the report cites the impact of Covid-19 on the mental health of healthcare workers. This also existed before the pandemic but has been exacerbated by it. As of June 2021, 29% of physicians had been treated or diagnosed with anxiety or depression, according to the report. Additionally, 20% said they felt exhausted and 7% reported suicidal ideation, according to the report. To address this risk factor, the report recommends several actions, including providing wellness programs for workers as well as hiring professional development specialists who can share mindfulness tips with clinicians and staff. .
Bias and racism rank third among risk factors for patient safety. Providers do not report harmful events for minority patients as frequently as they do for white patients, the report notes. Recommended actionable steps moving forward include training in cultural competency, taking allegations of racism seriously, and recruiting diverse staff.
The fourth risk factor was gaps and errors in vaccine coverage, and that includes vaccines beyond Covid-19. Specifically, the administration of the wrong vaccine or the wrong dose as well as the administration of expired vaccines contributed to the error, according to the report. To address and minimize the resulting risk, the report advocates improving vaccination protocols and placing vaccines on shelves with the earliest expiry date in advance.
According to the report, cognitive biases and misdiagnosis threaten patient safety because they can lead to misdiagnosis. For example, patients with respiratory problems were often suspected of having Covid-19, even after negative test results. The report noted that this resulted in delayed care and treatment for their actual diagnosis. As a remedy, the report recommends simulation training to identify the disease as well as decreasing biases prompting patient descriptors, such as “seeking drugs” or “frequent traveler.”
The other five risk factors were: healthcare-associated pneumonia without ventilation, telehealth issues (such as fractured adoption), international supply chain disruptions, products subject to authorization for use emergency and monitoring by telemetry (measurement of physiological parameters of patients remotely).
“Health and government officials must now aggressively manage these challenges amid a lingering pandemic and a weakened health system by prioritizing clinician recruitment, retention and resilience,” said Marcus SchabackerPresident and Director General of ECRI, in a press release. “As leaders, their most important job is to ensure that patient health and safety are top priorities.”
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