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3 Vital Approaches for Medical Error Reduction and Prevention

Understanding what constitutes a medical error, its consequences for patient safety, and applicable solutions.

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By Ido Zamberg, MD
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Edited by Michelle Meyer
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Fact-check by C8 Staff

Updated October 31, 2023.

medical errors and solutions

Medical errors— a major concern for both patients and healthcare professionals. But what exactly constitutes a medical error? Understanding the causes and consequences of medical errors is crucial to improving patient safety and enhancing the quality of healthcare delivery. Let's dive into the world of medicine, where science meets technology, and unveil some critical aspects of medical errors and how to solve them. This includes:

  • Implementing standardized protocols
  • Effectively disseminating knowledge
  • Strictly adhering to protocols

Meet the Expert

Ido Zamberg M.D. is a board-certified physician (General Internal Medicine and Anesthesia), currently a Fellow at the Division of Experimental Medicine, McGill University Health Center, Montreal, Canada.

Defining Medical Errors

From an evidence-based medicine perspective, a medical error is any deviation from established protocols or a departure from evidence-based practices.

In simpler terms, it's when healthcare providers stray from the path of proven medical guidelines. This includes:

Now, here's the catch: not all medical errors lead to immediate harm. Some are "near misses," scenarios where either a potential error was narrowly averted or an actual error occurred but didn't harm the patient. Think of it as assembling an IKEA bed without following the instructions: it might collapse or it might not. In both cases, any deviation from the instructions counts as a medical error, whether it's immediately noticeable or not.

Protocols and evidence-based practice are the cornerstones of safe, standardized healthcare. They form the foundation of patient care and help to minimize the occurrence of errors. These guidelines are developed based on extensive research and clinical trials, and following them ensures that healthcare professionals are providing the most effective and safe treatments for their patients.

A Prescription for Error Reduction: 3 Vital Approaches

1. Implement Standardized Protocols

Protocols are the foundation of standardized care. Just like the standardized CPR protocol, healthcare providers need clear, evidence-based guidelines for various medical scenarios. These protocols should be meticulously developed over time, integrating the latest evidence.

2. Effectively Disseminate Knowledge

Developing protocols is only the first step—the key is making them accessible and user-friendly. Healthcare professionals should have real-time access to these guidelines and trust their legality and applicability to their specific point-of-service.

3. Strictly Adhere to Protocols

Following organizational protocols can significantly improve outcomes, even when other factors conspire to create medical errors. Adhering to guidelines also ensures patient safety, thus increasing the chances of a positive outcome. Furthermore, it promotes consistency and standardization in healthcare practices, reducing the likelihood of mistakes or variations in treatment.

» Make your hospital's protocols accessible to everyone in real-time with C8 Health.

A Better Clinical Experience for Providers

With C8 Health, healthcare providers can seamlessly find and apply their institutions’ best practices, resulting in a better clinical experience, improved staff wellness, and standardization of care.

Find out how C8 Health has helped anesthesiologist, Max Feinstein M.D., streamline knowledge dissemination.

The Culprits Behind Medical Errors

So, what fuels these medical errors? Let's take a closer look at the human, technological, and systemic factors at play.

1. Human Factors

Lack of experience, knowledge gaps, and sheer exhaustion are some of the most common human factors that drive medical errors. Healthcare providers may stray from guidelines due to inexperience or a lack of familiarity with the latest evidence. Burnout and fatigue can also lead to lapses in judgment and adherence to protocols.

2. Technological Factors 

Technological factors play a pivotal role in reducing and preventing medical errors, but can also present hurdles. One major challenge is the absence of centralized knowledge management systems, making it difficult for healthcare professionals to access crucial clinical guidance promptly. This fragmented information landscape can lead to errors due to the lack of up-to-date protocols and guidelines.

Additionally, a prevalent issue arises from the disconnect between technology and staff needs. Medical devices and software systems are often designed without sufficient input from healthcare professionals who use them daily, resulting in solutions that add complexity to workflows and hinder efficient patient care. These issues underscore the critical need for technology that aligns seamlessly with the demands of healthcare environments, ensuring safer and more effective patient outcomes.

3. Systemic Factors

Hospitals are complex ecosystems where highly-trained professionals work tirelessly. However, budget constraints often hinder training and education, leaving healthcare providers underprepared for rare but critical situations. Imagine facing a condition like malignant hyperthermia, which is incredibly rare and challenging to detect. Without adequate training and exposure, even seasoned professionals may struggle, and it's difficult to recognize and treat because there often isn't enough simulation or hands-on training.

Additionally, staff burnout and high turnover rates can disrupt the delicate balance required during medical emergencies. In high-stress situations, effective teamwork is vital, but unfamiliarity among team members can be a recipe for disaster.

» Streamline collaboration with C8 Health's data-driven features.

Standardizing Care with C8 Health

Understanding what constitutes a medical error, recognizing the factors that contribute to them, and effectively implementing protocols and procedures are essential steps toward enhancing patient safety. Furthermore, a commitment to evidence-based practice and standardized care can make all the difference in ensuring that care is given with accuracy and consistency across professionals and throughout hospital systems.

C8 Health makes it easier to standardize care by providing you with tools to organize best practices and make them accessible to everyone.