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Top Technology Hazards of 2014

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The Emergency Care Research Institute, an organization of hospitals, insurers and others, releases an annual list of the top technology hazards. The hazards include medical devices and technologies that could harm patients if not used properly.

At the top of the list this year are alarm hazards. Ventilator alarms and other devices that alert nurses to changes in patients’ medical conditions are part of every hospital experience. They frequently go off, leading to alarm fatigue, in which nurses ignore them or feel overwhelmed.

The report also mentions hazards arising from the improper use of infusion pumps to deliver medication to patients. Failure to use infusion pumps correctly may lead to patients receiving an overdose of medication or too little medication. The risk of medication mistakes, from incorrect dosages or the wrong drug, goes up when healthcare providers fail to follow safeguards.

Errors linked to the use of electronic health records also pose safety hazards. These errors include missing data, synchronization errors, basic data entry errors, and other problems.

The report also mentions other perennially present problems in hospitals, including inadequate sterilization and reprocessing of endoscopes and other surgical instruments.

The modern hospital contains networked systems, and when components of one such system are modified, or upgraded, other components are affected. Hospitals need to consider how such upgrades and modifications can affect the functioning of components of the same system in other parts of the hospital.

The report also draws attention to the risks to pediatric patients from the use of adult imaging technologies, adult-focused electronic health records, and adult-sized dosages of medication.

Insufficient training also contributes to errors caused during robotic surgery. Robotic surgical systems are being used in more types of procedures, but the teams of physicians are not adequately trained to use the robotic system for the procedure in every case.

Some of the more common surgical errors involve surgical items left inside patients. Surgical sponges or towels, as well as pieces of devices that break away during an operation, may be left inside patients’ bodies.

Hospitals need to take a close look at this report and take steps to ensure these technologies and devices are used to boost patient safety, not compromise it.