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Frankly Speaking on Patient Safety

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First, do no harm

By Frank Phillips

This phrase is a cherished one throughout healthcare, and a principle by which healthcare facilities and providers alike always seek to abide.

So, in 1999, when the Institute of Medicine published their now famous “To Err is Human” report, individuals and organizations both inside and outside of healthcare were shocked by the findings that an estimated 98,000 people a year die due to mistakes in hospitals. In the years since that report, much has changed in healthcare, but what about patient safety?

What is the scope of the problem, what progress has been made and what are the solutions? Take a look.

***Frankly Speaking



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On the Future of Nursing Practice

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Focus on Scope of Practice

[By Staff Reporters]

Transforming the health care system to meet the demand for safe, quality, and affordable care will require a fundamental rethinking of the roles of many health care professionals, including nurses. The 2010 Affordable Care Act represents the broadest health care overhaul since the 1965 creation of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, but nurses are unable to fully participate in the resulting evolution of the U.S. health care system. This is true for nurses at all levels, whether they practice in schools or community and public health centers or acute care settings. A variety of historical, cultural, regulatory, and policy barriers limit nurses’ ability to contribute to widespread and meaningful change.

In 2008, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) launched a two-year initiative to respond to the need to assess and transform the nursing profession. The IOM appointed the Committee on the RWJF Initiative on the Future of Nursing, at the IOM, with the purpose of producing a report that would make recommendations for an action-oriented blueprint for the future of nursing.

As part of its report, the committee considered the obstacles all nurses encounter as they take on new roles in the transformation of health care in the United States. While challenges face nurses at all levels, the committee took particular note of the legal barriers in many states that prohibit advance practice registered nurses (APRNs) from practicing to their full education and training. The committee determined that such constraints will have to be lifted in order for nurses to assume the responsibilities they can and should be taking during this time of great need.




The Changing Health Care System

In the 21st century, the health challenges facing the nation have shifted dramatically. The health care system is in the midst of great change as care providers discover new ways to provide patient-centered care; to deliver more primary care as opposed to specialty care; and to deliver more care in the community rather than the acute care setting. Nurses are well poised to meet these needs by virtue of their numbers, scientific knowledge, and adaptive capacity, and health care organizations would benefit from taking advantage of the contributions nurses can make.


As the health care system has expanded over the past 40 years, the education and roles of APRNs, in particular, have evolved in such a way that nurses now enter the workplace qualified to provide more services than had been the case previously. Yet while APRNs are educated and trained to do more, some physicians challenge expanding scopes of practice for nurses. The committee stresses that physicians are highly trained and skilled providers and that some services clearly should be provided by physicians, who have received more extensive and specialized education and training than APRNs. However, given the great need for more affordable health care, nurses should be playing a larger role in the health care system, both in delivering care and in decision making about care.

The committee argues that APRNs are not acting as physician extenders or substitutes. They work throughout the entirety of health care, from health promotion and disease prevention to early diagnosis to prevent or limit disability. APRNs sometimes provide services that many people associate with physicians, such as assessing patient conditions or ordering and evaluating tests, but they also incorporate a range of services from other disciplines, including social work, nutrition, and physical therapy.


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Impact of Health Information Technology

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An HIT Infographic

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Practicing clinicians have indicated strong support for the ability of health IT to overcome communication challenges among care providers. Considering that a series of Institute of Medicine reports on errors in healthcare have led to widespread recognition that siloed practices and inadequate communication are primary contributors to medical errors, continued endorsement for health IT will lead to better communication and enhanced quality of care.

The results come from the 2013 iHIT study conducted by HIMSS and HIMSS Analytics, released during HIMSS13, the organization’s annual conference and exhibition. The study was designed to explore the role of health IT from an inter-professional communication perspective. More than 500 clinician respondents working in a care delivery setting provided information on the value of health IT in support of quality care.

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According to the study, the health IT tools in place at the provider organizations of respondents support various clinical processes and provide improved access to the information needed to prepare for delivery of care. This includes having improved access to information needed on patients transferring to a clinician’s unit/caseload, ultimately resulting in enhanced levels of patient care.


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Understanding the Modern Challenges of Student Doctors

An Evolving Educational Model

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By Cyndi Laurenti


Medical education could be driving potential doctors away and damaging those who do go on to practice with long hours, high debt, inconsistent training, and lack of emotional support. Research indicates the current structure of residency programs produces resident physicians who are stressed, sleep-deprived, and prone to medical errors.

Medical Residents

Medical school graduates who’ve begun their on-the-job training are called residents varying in length from three to seven years, depending on the specializations doctors pursue. Most programs utilize experienced physicians called preceptors to teach the new doctors how to practice their particular branches of medicine. Another common practice is to pair second- or third-year residents with one or more first-year residents, so the senior students take on some of the teaching and supervision roles.


Residents admit patients to the hospital, obtain medical histories, perform examinations, and administer treatments or do procedures under the guidance of the senior resident or preceptor.

The hours in a residency program are long. Despite recommendations from the Institutes of Medicine intended to decrease long shifts and work hours, 80-hour weeks are common in residency programs and 30-hour shifts with five-hour sleep periods are the norm. Moreover, those 80-hour work weeks represent the average over a four-week period, so a resident might actually work considerably longer in a single week.

Work Shifts

Rotating shifts, in which residents work at different times of the day or night, are also common. Sleep deprivation is the norm: a 2004 survey of over 3,000 residents reported 66 percent slept less than six hours a night, and 20 percent slept less than five. Of even more concern, those who slept less than five hours a night reported they had used alcohol, resorted to stimulants to stay awake, had serious accidents or injuries, had conflicts with other professional staff, or made serious medical errors.

Financial Stress

Many residents also face financial or family stressors as well. Debt is common in medical school: the New England Journal of Medicine reports one fourth of graduating residents have debt exceeding $200,000. Some residents use their limited free time to moonlight for additional income as the average medical resident salary is about $45,000 per year.


Medical residents are often in their late twenties or early thirties, a time when many people look to starting families. The lack of income may drive them to work extra hours in an already crowded schedule, which prevents them from spending time with children or a spouse, if indeed they manage to have either. Research from as far back as 1986 indicated over 40 percent of medical residents experience problems with their spouses during residency. Respondents often feel the working conditions of residency contribute to family problems, which in turn affect their hospital work as a result. On a positive note, researchers have found stress can be moderated by family relationships and social contact, and recommended social support systems be fostered in residency programs.


Emotional stress related to patient care is another aspect of the issues with residency. Over 70 percent of residents in one study reported hospital activities such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation were extremely stressful and the lack of a debriefing session afterward increased the impact of that stress, particularly when the resident felt the resuscitation was inappropriate.

Recipe for Disaster?

The combination of stress and sleep deprivation is a recipe for disaster. A study at HarvardUniversityfound residents who worked extended shifts or long hours were involved in 300 percent more fatal errors than when they did not work excessive hours. These same physicians reported they were likely to fall asleep during surgery, patient examinations, hospital rounds or lectures, and that their medical errors induced guilt, anger, humiliation, and decreased compassion for the patients they treated.

To add to these stresses, as recently as October 2011 almost half of graduate physicians in one survey reported they had been harassed, intimidated or discriminated against while residents. These behaviors took the form of verbal abuse and being assigned extra work as punishment. The sources of inappropriate behavior were primarily specialty physicians, but specialty residents, hospital nurses, and patients also participated in the harassment.

The Changing Paradigm

Some residency programs have made changes to improve the quality of life for residents. These include strategies such as decreasing patient load, senior residents supervising a single resident instead of two or more, and decreasing hand-offs, the transfer of patients from one group of residents to another. Other recommendations include debriefing sessions for stressful situations such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation, ethics committees to which residents can take complicated problems, and increased emotional support.


Other possible strategies include a decreased shift length, or simply adherence to the Institutes of Medicine’s guidelines for residency training programs. Social networks for residents’ spouses and families would provide a forum to air concerns and obtain emotional support from those in similar circumstances.

Additional efforts to relieve medical student debt would also make a considerable positive impact. A program currently exists in theUnited Statesfor physicians to obtain loan forgiveness: the National Health Service Corps pays off medical student debt if the physician practices full-time at a NHSC-approved site, usually a federally-qualified health center, rural or Indian Health service clinics, or prison. If a physician serves full-time for six or more years, the entire debt may be repaid by the NHSC.


Most residency programs in other parts of the world are similar to those in theUnited States, although there may be different laws that affect work hours or salaries. There is clear evidence that overstressed and sleep-deprived residents are more likely to make serious or even fatal medical errors and lose their sense of compassion for patients. The current residency system is expensive, emotionally stressful, and puts the lives of patients at risk. America (and likely other nations as well) would benefit from making even more changes in residency programs to provide adequate time for sleep, family or social interaction, and emotional support for fledgling doctors.

About the Author

While she figures out her next career move, Cyndi Laurenti works as an online writer and editor. Her primary interests are education, technology, and how to combine them. She enjoys the trees and beaches of thePacific Northwest, and looking things up on other people’s iPhones.


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Defining Electronic Medical Record Systems

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Does Linguistic Obfuscation Exacerbate our Use Ambivalence?

[By Dr. Richard J. Mata; CIS, CMP™]

[By Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA, CMP™]

The 2003 Institute of Medicine (IOM) Patient Safety Report [1] described an EHR [2] as encompassing:

  • a longitudinal collection of electronic health information for and about persons;
  • [immediate] electronic access to person- and population-level information by authorized users;
  • provision of knowledge and decision-support systems [that enhance the quality, safety, and;
  • efficiency of patient care] with support for efficient processes for health care delivery.

The IOM Report

A 1997 IOM report, The Computer-Based Patient Record: An Essential Technology for Health Care, provides a more extensive definition:

A patient record system is a type of clinical information system, which is dedicated to collecting, storing, manipulating, and making available clinical information important to the delivery of patient care. The central focus of such systems is clinical data and not financial or billing information. Such systems may be limited in their scope to a single area of clinical information (e.g., dedicated to laboratory data), or they may be comprehensive and cover virtually every facet of clinical information pertinent to patient care (e.g., computer-based patient record systems).

The HIMSS Model

The EHR definitional model document developed by the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS, 2003) includes:

“a working definition of an EHR, attributes, key requirements to meet attributes, and measures or ‘evidence’ to assess the degree to which essential requirements have been met once EHR is implemented.”


The IOM Model

Another IOM report, Key Capabilities of an Electronic Health Record System [Tang, 2003], identifies a set of eight core care delivery functions that EHR systems should be capable of performing in order to promote greater safety, quality and efficiency in health care delivery:

8 Core Principles

Today, we realize that the eight core capabilities that Electronic Health [Medical] Records should possess are:

  1. — Health information and data. Having immediate access to key information – such as patients’ diagnoses, allergies, lab test results, and medications – would improve caregivers’ ability to make sound clinical decisions in a timely manner.
  2. — Result management. The ability for all providers participating in the care of a patient in multiple settings to quickly access new and past test results would increase patient safety and the effectiveness of care.
  3. — Order management. The ability to enter and store orders for prescriptions, tests, and other services in a computer-based system should enhance legibility, reduce duplication, and improve the speed with which orders are executed.
  4. — Decision support. Using reminders, prompts, and alerts, computerized decision-support systems would help improve compliance with best clinical practices, ensure regular screenings and other preventive practices, identify possible drug interactions, and facilitate diagnoses and treatments.
  5. — Electronic communication and connectivity. Efficient, secure, and readily accessible communication among providers and patients would improve the continuity of care, increase the timeliness of diagnoses and treatments, and reduce the frequency of adverse events.
  6. — Patient support. Tools that give patients access to their health records, provide interactive patient education, and help them carry out home monitoring and self-testing can improve control of chronic conditions, such as diabetes.
  7. — Administrative processes. Computerized administrative tools, such as scheduling systems, would greatly improve hospitals’ and clinics’ efficiency and provide more timely service to patients.
  8. — Reporting. Electronic data storage that employs uniform data standards will enable health care organizations to respond more quickly to federal, state, and private reporting requirements, including those that support patient safety and disease surveillance.” [3]


With all the confusion surrounding terms like quality improvement and “meaningful use” which can mean major Federal dollars to the coffers of a medical practice, clinic or hospital; are we still confused about basic definitional terms?

And, does eMR linguistic obfuscation exacerbate our use ambivalence and encourage physician/dentist eMR avoidance?


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[1]   See http://www.himss.org/content/files/PatientSafetyFinalReport8252003.pdf.

[2]   EHR (electronic health record) is often used interchangeably with EMR (electronic medical record).  In this discussion, EHR will be used consistently.

[3]   See http://www.iom.edu/.

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On Hospital CPOE Systems [Part One]

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Computerized Physician Order Entry Systems

[By Brent Metfessel MD, MIS]

Since the late 1990s, there has been increasing pressure for hospitals to develop processes to ensure quality of care. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has estimated the number of annual deaths from medical error to be 44,000 to 98,000.  Manual entry of orders, use of non-standard abbreviations, and poor legibility of orders and chart notes contribute to medical errors.  They also concluded that most errors are the result of system failures, not people failures.


Other studies suggest that between 6.5% and 20% of hospitalized patients will experience an adverse drug event (ADE) during their stay. Both quality and cost of care suffer.  The cost for each ADE is estimated to be about $2,000 to $2,500, mainly resulting from longer lengths of stay. The National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics reported that about 23,000 hospital patients die annually from injuries linked specifically to the use of medications.

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The Joint Commission and the Leapfrog Group

In addition, the Joint Commission and the Leapfrog Group, a consortium of large employers, have pushed patient safety as a high priority and hospitals are following suit. The Leapfrog Group in particular highlighted CPOE systems as one of the changes that would most improve patient safety.  These patient safety initiatives have further advanced CPOE systems, since these systems have the reduction of medical errors as a prime function.  State and federal legislatures have also stepped up activity in this regard.

For example, back in July 2004, the federal government strongly advocated for electronic medical records, including the creation of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to develop a National Health Information Network. Consequently, regional health information organizations have been established in many states, and these are used for the purpose of expediting the sharing and exchange of healthcare data and information, although there still remain issues in terms of providing adequate funding to these programs.

In addition, consideration was given to the allocation of grants and low-interest loans to aid hospitals in implementing healthcare technology solutions.  In 2000, California first enacted legislation (Senate Bill 1875) stating that as a condition of licensure, acute care hospitals, with the exception of small and rural hospitals, submit plans to implement technological solutions (such as CPOE systems) to substantially reduce medication-related errors by January 1, 2002. Hospitals in California had until January 1, 2005, to actually implement their medication error-reduction plans and make them operational. Unfortunately, many are still not in compliance today.

Health plans also entered the patient safety stage. In 2002, one large health plan in the northeast provided a 4% bonus to hospitals implementing a CPOE system and staffing intensive care units (ICUs) with “intensivists.” Today, this goal is almost the norm, but not yet reality for all.

More than Data Retrieval 

Many hospitals have “data retrieval” systems where a provider on the wards can obtain lab results and other information. A CPOE system, however, allows entry of data from the wards and is usually coupled with a “decision support” module that does just that — supports the provider in making decisions that maximize care quality and/or cost effectiveness.

In this application of HIT, physicians and possibly other providers enter hospital orders directly into the computer. Many vendors of such systems make special efforts to create an intuitive and user-friendly interface, with a variable range of customization possibilities. The physicians can enter orders either on a workstation on the ward or in some cases at the bedside.

Features of a True CPOE System

Basic features of CPOE should include the following:

  • Medication analysis system — A medication analysis program usually accompanies the order entry system. In such cases, either after order entry or interactively, the system checks for potential problems such as drug-drug interactions, duplicate orders, drug allergies and hypersensitivities, and dosage miscalculations. More sophisticated systems may also check for drug interactions with co-morbidities (e.g., psychiatric drugs that may increase blood pressure in a depressed patient with hypertension), drug-lab interactions (e.g., labs pointing to renal impairment that may adversely affect drug levels), and suggestions to use drugs with the same therapeutic effect but lower cost. Naturally, physicians have the option to decline the alerts and continue with the order. In fact, if there are alerts that providers are frequently overriding, providers will often provide feedback that can lead to modification of the alert paradigms. Encouraging feedback increases the robustness of the CPOE system and facilitates continuous quality improvement.
  • Order clarity — Reading the handwriting of providers is a legendary problem. Although many providers do perfectly well with legibility, other providers have difficulty due to being rushed, stressed, or due to trait factors. Since the orders are accessible directly on the workstation screen or from the printer, time is saved on callbacks to decipher illegible orders as well as preventing possible errors in order translation. A study in 1986 by Georgetown University Hospital (Washington, D.C.) noted that 16% of all manual medical records are illegible. Clarifying these orders takes professional time, and resources are spent duplicating the data; thus, real cost savings can be realized through the elimination of these processes.
  • Increased work efficiency — Instantaneous electronic transmittal of orders to radiology, laboratory, pharmacy, consulting services, or other departments replaces corresponding manual tasks. This increase in efficiency from a CPOE system has significant returns. In one hospital in the southeast, the time taken between drug order submission and receipt by the pharmacy was shortened from 96 minutes (using paper) to 3 minutes. Such an increase in efficiency can save labor costs and lead to earlier discharge of patients. The same hospital noted a 72% reduction in medication error rates during a three-month period after the system was implemented. Alerting providers to duplicate lab orders further saves costs from more efficient work processes. And, in another instance, the time from writing admission orders to execution of the orders decreased from about six hours to 30 minutes, underscoring CPOE system utility in making work processes more efficient; thus positively affecting the bottom line.


In today’s environment of high expectations for care quality and pay-for-performance initiatives, enhanced quality of care can translate into financial gain. Although there is a significant up-front allocation of funds for CPOE systems, given present trends the time may arrive where there is no longer a choice but to implement such a system.


Although a Computerized Physician Order Entry system alone will reap significant benefits if intelligently implemented, in order to realize the greatest benefit a CPOE system should be rolled up into a fully functioning EMR system where feasible.

Your thoughts and comments on this ME-P are appreciated. Feel free to review our top-left column, and top-right sidebar materials, links, URLs and related websites, too. Then, subscribe to the ME-P. It is fast, free and secure.

Speaker: If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA – Publisher-in-Chief of the Medical Executive-Post – is available for seminar or speaking engagements. Contact: MarcinkoAdvisors@msn.com


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