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3 Hidden Threats to Hospital Patient Safety

When patients enter a hospital, they hope for healing, not complications that leave them worse off. But it happens. Sometimes because of an unexpected change in a patient’s condition, but other times, it’s something preventable.

Hospital leaders and staff already strive for patient safety, but face additional pressure, such as from the Hospital Acquired Conditions (HAC) Reduction Program, to ramp up efforts to reduce preventable incidents.

Although these efforts prevented 20,500 deaths and saved $7.7 billion from 2014 to 2017, problems still exist. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that for every 9 in 100 patient visits in 2016, patients suffered an avoidable injury.

Aside from falls, infections, and the other usual suspects, here are 3 hidden threats to patient safety that hospitals tend to ignore.

1. Patient Feeding Issues Could Lead to Malnourishment or Choking

Nutrition is essential for patients’ recovery, but it has to be the right type of nutrition, especially for patients with swallowing issues.

Patients with dysphagia have difficulty starting to swallow or feel food is stuck in the neck or chest. They may avoid eating or drinking, which can lead to dehydration or malnutrition. On the other hand, if these patients eat, they risk choking, or even developing pneumonia if food enters the lungs.

How Can Hospitals Avoid This?

Patients need tailored nutrition plans. The IDDSI (International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative) provides a framework for food and drink texture that helps medical professionals gauge the appropriate thickness that food should contain for the patient.

The patients’ care teams should be familiar with this condition to recognize it. Hospitals then need to provide foods in various textures and tastes to encourage patients to intake food safely.

2. The Patient’s Room Is a Germ Factory, Especially the Floor

When a patient enters a hospital room, they are anxious to get settled, update loved ones, and wait for someone from the care team to come in. They aren’t thinking about who used the room last, and if it has been thoroughly disinfected.

Nor should they. That’s not their job, yet with the risk of healthcare-associated infections (HAI), this is starting to come on the radar for patients.

Even if surfaces look clean, they might not be germ-free. Only 40% to 50% of surfaces that should be disinfected actually are. Bacteria can live on surfaces for years, even becoming active after being dormant.

Germs Can Thrive on Items Easily Overlooked

Just like in hotels, items such as hospital television remotes and light switches can be teeming with bacteria.

Even if the rooms are clean, hospital equipment is wheeled across the floor. Staff, patients, and guests walk from one room or hallway to the next. That means bacteria gets transmitted.

One study found that hospital floors are among the most overlooked source of infection-causing contaminants. When patients and staff pick up dropped objects or when patients walk across the floor in socks and then get into the hospital bed, bacteria are easily transmitted to their hands.

Even re-used cleaning equipment, like mops and towels, can transmit bacteria from one place to another.

How Can Hospitals Avoid This?

Hospitals must be diligent in using environmentally-friendly disinfecting products that ensure cleanliness and safety for patients.

Also, switching to single-use mops and wipes can decrease cross-contamination from cleaning equipment.

3. Hospital Staff Are Infecting Patients

Another culprit for hospital-acquired infections: The hospital staff.

Almost every day, 1 in 31 hospital patients has at least one HAI. Attention is often focused on how procedures can introduce bacteria into a patient’s system, such as in a CAUTI, but a recent study found that large numbers of healthcare workers may transmit respiratory viruses to patients.

The Society of Healthcare Epidemiology of America reported that 92% of healthcare workers who had symptoms of viral illnesses still worked with patients during their shifts, increasing the risk of illness in an already vulnerable population.

Most often, healthcare worker symptoms were mild or started during the workday. What makes this even more concerning is that hospital patients have a higher risk of contracting certain antibiotic-resistant infections through person-to-person contact.

How Can Hospitals Avoid This?

Washing hands is, of course, the first defense against spreading infection, yet healthcare workers still miss the mark with consistent hand hygiene, cleaning their hands half as often as they should. Consistent attention to hygiene should also include disinfecting items commonly used by healthcare workers, such as white coats, stethoscopes, and cell phones.
Beyond healthcare workers maintaining consistent hygiene, there is a larger issue when hospital staff do not feel they can take time to care for themselves due to staffing shortages. Hospitals must ensure they have enough clinical staff coverage to let a nurse go home when sick — even if the symptoms are mild. For this policy to be effective, hospitals must also have a culture that encourages healthcare workers to attend to their own health.

So, here’s the question: How vigilantly is your hospital monitoring and addressing those under-the-radar risks to patient safety?

Sodexo provides all hospital support services, so clinicians can focus on outcomes. See how Sodexo can support your hospital.

February 12, 2020

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