We are continuing our discussion of factors that contribute to mistakes in hospitals. There is always a risk that something won't work, that a medication or procedure won't cure the patient. Researchers have pinpointed a handful of human factors that can cause injuries and complications even in routine cases. Human error is the leading cause of most accidents -- from falling off a bicycle to crashing a plane -- and there are simple ways to change these behaviors.
In our last post, we discussed fatigue and its effect on human performance. The dangers of doing any important or dangerous task while fatigued were made clear this week with the release of the National Transportation Safety Board's final report on a horrific 2011 tour bus accident. The driver had fallen asleep at the wheel. Fatigue added to excessive speed resulted in 15 deaths and some serious, life-altering injuries.
Multitasking can easily lead to mistakes, too. A common example these days is texting while driving. The driver's attention is divided between the road and his or her cellphone. Driving requires a person's full attention.
In a hospital, multitasking can cause just as much harm. In this era of advanced technology and staff cutbacks, it is all too easy for a nurse, for example, to deliver medication to a number of patients at a time. There is a real risk, though, of mixing up the medications. The results can be deadly.
Another example is the doctor who is signing charts and patient orders while trying to listen to a colleague or even a patient. Neither the paperwork nor the person gets enough attention, and that can mean that orders get mixed up or important information gets overlooked.
Medical knowledge and diagnostic skills take a physician only so far when it comes to patient care. Doctors and nurses alike must remember to focus on the task at hand. No amount of time gained by doubling up on tasks is worth a patient's well-being.
Multitasking and fatigue are not the only human factors. We will talk about the last -- emotional stress -- as well as what researchers call "environmental factors" in future posts.
Source: Hospital Impact, "6 factors that lead to human error," Frederick Southwick, M.D., May 23, 2012