Comprehensive patient safety efforts undoubtedly include addressing issues on a wide range of fronts. There is not a single type of error, and so many different solutions are needed to eliminate different mistakes–from medication problems to lapses during surgery. We’ve seen them all with our work in Chicago and the rest of Illinois on these cases.
One underappreciated facet to many of these problems, however, is relationships. How medical professionals and staff members treat each other and interact together in the workplace has a huge effect on the quality of the work they provide to patients. This is not all that surprising, considering work environment is a critical factor in all employment setting–an unhappy or disrespected worker is rarely a high-performing worker. But, in the medical setting the lives of others are on the line, and so the need to eliminate personnel problems is critical.
Respect & Hospital-Acquired Infections
The understanding of the role of work environment was the underlying issue in a new story published at Quality & Infection Control, which tackled the importance of sterilization and the need to eliminate errors. It is not a stretch to say that a lack of respect for some in the caregiving process may actually lead to medical malpractice.
Specifically, some are now suggesting that workers who work in sterile processing department needs to be more empowered. Infection control is always one of the (if not “the”) most important aspects of patient safety strategies. Cleanliness and sterilization are at the root of infection control efforts. Without proper sterilization of instruments, for example, surgical site infections can attack patients unsuspectingly–there are many real-world examples of this sort of error, including in Chicago.
Interestingly, more patient safety experts are arguing that one of the keys to minimizing sterilization problems is more recognition and appreciation for the staff members who actual work in these departments. For example, one professional leading the charge noted that “In year’s past, central sterile processing staff have been looked down upon as employees who exist on a lower level or as an uneducated group who do not know what they are doing.”
Obviously that old approach is outdated and downright dangerous. The central sterile processing staff plays a critical role that, when not done properly, can lead to serious medical errors.
Minimizing Surgical-Site Infections
So how do hospitals increase the status of these staff members? The article offers various suggestions. For example, job rotations may be important so that other co-workers can build more personal relationships with these individuals. Sterilization staff often have less visibility on a hospital-wide level. Along similar lines, these employees should be better integrated into hospital organization groups, like committees and infection control meetings.
The bottom line is that surgical-site infections and other forms of preventable medical mistakes occur in Illinois and throughout the country far more than acceptable. Personnel problems are one important piece of the effort to cut down on those rates and ultimately save patient lives. Better visibility, respect, teamwork, appreciation, and understanding between co-workers must be pursued by all facilities as part of their safety efforts.
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