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Hospitals working to ensure patients' safety

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Diane Dierks photo

Tia Whitford, R.N. Manager of the Medical-Surgical Unit at St. Vincent Clay Hospital, uses the computerized Pyxis drug administration system to retrieve medications.

- What can be done to prevent the Methodist Hospital tragedy from occurring here?



Three infants died after receiving accidental Heparin overdoses at Methodist Hospital in September, never the less, patient safety continues to be at the forefront of hospital training and education programs.

What do hospitals do to ensure a safe stay? St. Vincent Clay Hospital recently installed the Pyxis computerized drug administration system. The Pyxis machine requires hospital staff to enter their fingerprint for identification and opens medication drawers according to individual patient identification. It also helps prevent errors by using a single drawer system to separate medications with similar names or labels. The new technology is an added safety measure, but according to Andrea Baysinger, Education and Marketing Coordinator, "Nurses have the ultimate responsibility to be the patient's last line of defense."

Jamie Webster, St. Vincent Clay Surgical Manager, commented when a patient prepares for surgery, it is the policy of the hospital to have the patient initial the extremity where the procedure is going to take place and leave the other extremity blank. This safety practice is also beneficial because it involves the patient in their own care.

Since St. Vincent Clay installed its Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) system, the staff has undergone extensive training. The system uses a very powerful magnet and anyone entering the MRI room must be screened for potential hazards. According to Jessie Lund, Radiology Department Manager, patients with pacemakers can not undergo MRI therapy and patients with cardiac stints or other medical implants such as, artificial joints or metal plates, must be screened to make sure the materials are non-magnetic.

And what about patient identification? Patients receive an I.D. wristband when they enter the hospital and staff is instructed to ask patients to state their own name instead of asking them, "Are you Mr. Smith?" This helps to prevent identification errors of patients who may be confused, sedated or hearing impaired.

According to Baysinger, employees participate in annual safety fairs where they receive mandatory training on national patient safety goals. She said that sometimes it's the simple things that improve safety. The hospital recently began using ruby red slippers that have tread all around, instead of only on the bottoms. Patients who are at risk for falls are identified by colored wristbands and posted "falling star" signs.

Sandy Haggart, Director of Clinical Services at St. Vincent Clay says it's important for hospital staff to use language that patients understand and, in turn, patients should question staff if they do not understand medical terms. She commented that patients are sometimes afraid to ask questions, especially older generations, because they may consider it improper to question medical staff.

Speaking up for yourself is not always comfortable, but participating in your own care can lead to better outcomes. Don't hesitate to ask staff to wash their hands, if they do not do so when entering the room. Carry an information card that includes surgical history, insurance and medications, including eye drops and over-the-counter drugs. If possible, have a family member or friend stay with you to act as your medical advocate, in case you are not able to, and have copies of your living will and power of attorney documents ready to take to the hospital.

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