A 2016 analysis published in BMJ revealed that medical error is the third-leading cause of death in the United States. This includes process errors, planning errors, and failures to act. Martin Makary, a health policy expert at Johns Hopkins and an author of the analysis, explains that the “complex medical system” in the U.S. “sometimes lacks transparency that results in the wide variation in quality of medical care that is the endemic problem in safety.” Makary also notes that “safety nets are missing and standardization is lacking.”
At the heart of this standardization problem lies outdated technology and confusing systems. Many healthcare providers continue to use lagging systems that don’t efficiently collect or analyze data. Furthermore, a mix of legacy and new systems makes for potential conflicts that add to the confusion and fortify workplace silos. Without the sharing of information, organizations fail to see big-picture strategies and solutions that could help prevent medical errors and increase patient safety.
“We have a hazardous information environment that we’re working in…” explains Christine Sinsky in the article Preventable Deaths in American Hospitals. She refers to this environment as an “area of information overload, information underload, information chaos.”
In short, some technology isn’t performing how it should, and change remains elusive. “Hospital organizations need an integrated system to protect and defend across the care continuum…” notes the article 10 Healthcare Quality Improvement Trends You Can’t Ignore. Integrated healthcare risk management software that can work seamlessly and securely with existing software is one of the missing links to knocking down silos and developing strategies that contribute to a reduction in deaths due to human error. Here are five specific ways healthcare risk management software accomplishes this.
1. Flexible design and support
When you can’t fight the current, sometimes it’s better to go with the flow. According to an article in the NEJM Catalyst, due to the healthcare industry’s “ever-changing regulatory, legal, political, and reimbursement climate, healthcare risk management has become more complex over time.” This dynamic nature is one of the industry’s few certainties, which means supporting technology must absolutely be flexible and adaptable.
Healthcare risk management software allows complex laws and industry standards to be funneled into a logical workflow so employees across departments know their individual roles in following protocol. And as regulations inevitably change, the system should have the capability to adjust on the fly, with assistance from a supportive, well-informed service team. When processes continue to hum, tasks and data remain accounted for, reducing unnecessary errors.
In Make automation matter, we discuss how technology must be the right fit for an organization: “This not only means a solution that is highly configurable and capable of handling even the most complex processes, but also one which is straightforward and fit for using on a day-in, day-out basis.” In addition, when clients use a system daily for critical tasks, a service team must provide reliable, consistent, and timely support.
2. Streamlined data collection
Before organizations can begin strategizing on increased patient safety, they need data. And in order to get data, they need to make reporting methods as straightforward as possible. A Department of Health and Human Services study on hospital incident reporting revealed that, “In the absence of clear event reporting requirements, administrators classified 86 percent of unreported events as either events that staff did not perceive as reportable (62 percent of all events) or that staff commonly reported but did not report in this case (25 percent).”
The right technology will have integrated data tools—such as data surveillance, patient safety event reporting, and enterprise-wide near miss reporting—that add clarity to what constitutes an incident and simplify the incident collection process. When greeted with short, simplified forms and clear instructions, employees are more likely to recognize incidents, near misses, and unsafe conditions for what they are and follow through with reporting them. A flexible risk management solution that allows for reporting in any location and on any device—via a web browser, a secure portal on an organization’s intranet, or a mobile phone—further increases reporting habits.
Finally, as we discussed in Using RMIS technology to improve incident and near-miss reporting, allowing employees to make reports anonymously “conveys that the reporting of incidents and near misses is about safety rather than punishment or shaming” and drives up the number of those willing to report. All of these solutions can help chip away at the 86% of unreported events mentioned above.
3. Automated processes and communication
Many healthcare organizations have become hamstrung by convoluted, inefficient processes and poor communication. Healthcare risk management software with a suite of technology can step in and lift the fog, directly connecting people to the data and leading to clear, straightforward plans of action.
To begin with, the right healthcare risk management software will ensure consistent data collection and add structure to internal compliance processes. Data must be entered accurately every time, and tasks must be communicated to the right people at the right time. This consistency is especially crucial when dealing with sentinel events, a term coined by the Joint Commission that is defined as:
any unanticipated event in a healthcare setting that results in death or serious physical or psychological injury to a patient or patients, not related to the natural course of the patient’s illness.
According to the same article in NEJM Catalyst, “Having an established plan in place promotes calm and measured response and transparency by staff and ensures that corrective actions can be implemented and evaluated.”
Automation also provides efficiency and increases accuracy. Not surprisingly, healthcare employees from every department find themselves overloaded with work. A healthcare risk management software can simplify and even take over some of these administrative tasks. “With the help of the software,” notes the article How governance, risk and compliance make patient data safer, “predefined rules help to reduce human error and built-in, automatic reminders/notifications for sign offs and other tasks keep each team member accountable. That way, those that interface with any part of the patient experience don’t have to worry about the minutiae of compliance and risk mitigation.”
Offloading these tasks to a risk management system not only helps reduce human error that can lead to medical error, but also allows employees from across the organization to return their focus to the most important priority: patient care.
4. Data aggregation and healthcare analytics
With simplified data collection and automation in place, staff are freed up to look deeper and focus on trends in order to make better strategic decisions for improved patient quality. The Prometheus Research article 10 Healthcare Quality Improvement Trends You Can’t Ignore states, “With the help of big data and smart analytics, we are at a point in healthcare [where] we can make a near-certain prediction about possible complications a patient can face, their possible re-admission, and the outcomes of a care plan devised for them. Not only [does analysis] translate to better health outcomes for the patients, it could also make a difference in improving reimbursements and regulatory compliance.”
When viewed as an individual metric, medical error only reveals so much. For example, an incident report may indicate that a patient received the wrong dose of medication. But analysis can reveal the how and why behind that data point, which is the real impetus for change. Maybe the nurse who gave the wrong dose was working too many consecutive hours. Or perhaps the medications involved looked or sounded the same. Unearthing these less obvious root causes allows for the development of more well-rounded preventative actions and what Prometheus Research calls “a culture of proactive readiness,” ultimately saving lives.
The right healthcare risk management solution will make data coming into your system truly meaningful. Healthcare analytics cut through the noise to reveal underlying causes and broader healthcare trends that can inform cross-departmental strategizing.
5. Secure patient information
Cybersecurity threats aren’t slowing down for the healthcare industry. According to the article How governance, risk and compliance make patient data safer, “As the healthcare industry is increasingly targeted by external threats aiming to monetize the theft of personal health data, information security has emerged as a top priority for the C-Suite. Not only is patient safety and privacy at risk, so is patient care. The healthcare industry as a whole must stop driving with its eyes closed, take control of the wheel…”
Cloud-based risk management software can help you begin driving with eyes wide open, thanks to functionality that goes beyond the secure filing of patient information and secure exchange of information. A truly secure system also makes it possible to grant designated parties across an organization access to relevant information. This avoids a particular point of vulnerability outlined in the Department of Health & Human Services report Health Industry Cybersecurity Practices: Managing Threats and Protecting Patients: that of “files containing sensitive data accidentally emailed to incorrect or unauthorized addresses.”
Another major vulnerability lies in the use of legacy systems that, although familiar to staff and operable enough to get the job done, may not be receiving the stellar support and oversight needed to protect it from security breaches. How to prepare for 2019 data breach trends states:
Attackers find new vulnerabilities to exploit while developers add layers of security and fortify systems. One area where this process may break down, however, is with legacy systems that no longer receive the same resources and attention they once garnered. [Data breach consultant Rebecca] Herold warns that these lower priority systems “often left unpatched and vulnerable, increasingly will be the targets of hacker attacks. Longstanding systems vulnerabilities will be exploited.”
With threats and challenges constantly evolving, organizations can benefit from flexible technology with manageable role-based security that remains a vendor’s primary focus.
Bringing it all together
The healthcare industry requires collaboration and cross-departmental strategizing. Patient safety depends on it. Implementing integrated healthcare risk management software like Origami Risk allows organizations to adapt to industry uncertainties, efficiently and securely collect data, and automate processes to turn data into insight, all within a secure IT environment. With the elimination of workplace silos and straightforward, actionable tasks, organizations can create change that begins to drive down the number of medical errors.