Speak up if safety tools signal harm

Follow this lesson from human healthcare to help keep your patients out of harm's way.
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Apr 22, 2011
By dvm360.com staff

Here’s an interesting find from the human health industry: Healthcare professionals make calculated decisions daily not to alert their colleagues when a safety tool signals potential harm to a patient, according to a new study of 6,500 nurses and nurse managers. The healthcare industry has developed safety tools to prevent communication errors and breakdowns, such as handoff protocols, checklists, computerized order entry systems and automated medication-dispensing systems—not unlike the veterinary industry.

But according to a national study, “The Silent Treatment: Why Safety Tools and Checklists Aren’t Enough to Save Lives,” 85 percent of healthcare workers reported that a safety tool had warned them of a problem that might have harmed a patient. And yet more than half (58 percent) of the participants said that although they received the warning, they failed to speak up and solve the problem. These results indicate that while safety tools might help prevent medical errors, they can’t work without communication among medical staff.

What’s more, four out of five study participants expressed concerns about three issues: dangerous shortcuts, incompetence, and disrespect. Many had witnessed these problems leading to near misses or causing actual harm to patients. Researchers say the report confirms that tools don’t create safety; people do. Safety tools will never compensate for communication failures in a hospital—or in your veterinary practice.