Fatal Errors Caused By Overworked, Understaffed Medical Professionals
Are you more likely to die because of the hospital that you’re in, rather than the illness you were admitted for?
As CBC reports, “Winnipeg Regional Health Authority data show that during a three-year period, there were 14 critical incidents related to medication reported at the Health Sciences Centre. Ten of those patients suffered major injury, and two of them died.” Canadians used to brag about having some of the finest healthcare in the world, so why is this happening?
A case in point is that of Karl Kollinger. In an interview with CBC, Karl and his wife, Marlene experienced several mistakes that could have cost Karl his life. Among them were wrong pre-operative directions, wrong medication, and lack of identification bracelet throughout his stay. Marlene Kollinger states that, “We are very fortunate that Karl is sitting here today. The outcome could have been grave, and he could have been dead.”
Why does it seem that Canadians hear about this problem more often these days?
• Medical staff shortages have put escalating pressure on a system that sees patient increases year after year.
• Work shifts are now structured to provide staff coverage – unfortunately this sometimes means staff gets less ‘down’ time away from the job. They come back to work feeling less fresh than in prior years.
• At a previous point in time, a staff member making such an error might have been suspended without pay. Now, under a model of ‘continuous improvement’, staff is encouraged to report errors without penalty.
Despite the good will and error checking, another CBC article reports that, “In the first year of mandatory reporting, Ontario hospitals disclosed that 36 patients had suffered severe adverse events — 10 of them fatal — because of medication errors.”
How Can Canadians Keep Safe?
• Be aware of medical specifics, procedures, medications, and personnel.
• Keep a written record separate from that which the medical staff uses.
• Ask questions of staff in the moment; ask follow up questions when they return or shift change occurs. Solicit information and check facts with everyone who comes to the patient.
• Elect an advocate to attend appointments and procedures with the patient.
• Be informed. Does your hospital have a Critical Care Intervention Team? What are admitting, transfer, and dismissal procedures? Where are they documented? Does the hospital have a formal patient advocacy and complaint system?
• Stay with the patient as much as possible.
• Don’t be afraid to escalate the situation to senior doctors and hospital managerial staff.
Given these tips, Canadians ought to feel empowered to work in partnership with their healthcare providers to ensure the best, safest care for themselves and their loved ones.