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The pandemic illustrates the urgent need for a new level of patient safety

The Coronavirus pandemic highlights major challenges within healthcare safety. Adopting new technologies can reduce stress and medical errors — and now is the time to address these issues.

A recent study by Johns Hopkins University showed that medical errors and malpractice are the third-leading cause of death in America. According to a consensus study report by the US National Academy of Medicine, a top contributor is over-stressed physicians, nurses, and other healthcare staff. Since that report was presented in the fall of 2019, the world has been struck by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is probably fair to assume that the situation for medical workers and patient safety has worsened — a situation that must be addressed as soon as possible.

Proper medical technology will help
The same study shows that understaffing is also a major contributing factor, while another is cultural. It is important to create a culture that allows medical staff to acknowledge stress and take steps to relieve it. From our perspective, a closely related issue is that of overall safety culture. To this end, adapting new and helpful technology can, for example, aid medical workers in stopping medication errors.

With this perspective in mind, the airline industry offers a helpful model when it comes to effective safety routines and a successful safety culture. If an airplane crashes due to a technical or human failure, hundreds of people may lose their lives at once. It rarely happens. In healthcare, hundreds of patients die due to medical errors each day—in the US alone.

Why the differences in safety precautions?
The airline industry has established a safety culture wherein staff are encouraged to report things that may compromise on- and offboard safety. In healthcare it’s often the opposite — hospitals are not transparent to society and employees hesitate to report system flaws. Another precaution that might be adapted from the airline model is that of technical security. Technical security must be established in the chain of care in order to increase safety, reduce stress, and minimize error. Both staff and patients will feel safer before “take-off” into each stressful work day and each patient experience.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a tragedy for those whose lives are at stake, for those whose family or friends have fallen ill or even passed away. And for all the businesses that are forced to let workers go or even shut down. The effects of this pandemic can never be made right, but we can hopefully at least learn things that will make it easier to deal with a future crisis. It’s time to improve the work environment of medical workers and thereby also patient safety — for the sake of both our medical heroes and the patients they serve.