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Leading the charge for better patient safety

Estimated read time: 6 minutes

by Cerner Corporation

Published on 4/21/2021

Reducing risk and protecting patients from preventable harm is a non-negotiable when delivering high-quality care. While there have been many advances around patient safety in recent years, significant problems remain for healthcare providers across the globe. Adverse events caused by unsafe care is likely one of the top 10 leading causes of death and disability in the world. Over the past year, the unprecedented burden of providing care during the COVID-19 pandemic has only added to the issues around patient safety.

Strong leadership and a commitment to continuous improvement are both crucial to create and maintain a culture of safety in healthcare. In addition, technology and data can support efforts around reducing medical errors, injuries, accidents and infections. In this blog, we’ll take a look at how digital tools can help providers address some common patient safety challenges.

Reducing medication errors

Each year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration receives more than 100,000 reports associated with a suspected medication error. The consequences of these events may include loss of life, hospitalization, disabilities and birth defects.

Fortunately, health IT solutions can help enhance safety throughout the medication process. A small hospital system that serves more than 700,000 people in the southwest region of the U.S. recently engaged Cerner to improve the drug-ordering process and increase dose range checking (DRC) coverage while maintaining a reasonable alert rate for providers and pharmacists.

As a result of this improvement project, the organization’s number of active primary medications with (DRC) coverage increased from 230 to 2,997 and accepted DRC alerts rose from 264 to 1,190 per day ─ enabling a wider safety net for checking medication orders against appropriate dose ranges.

Addressing clinician burnout

It’s no secret that the extensive battle against COVID-19 has taken a toll on the wellness of clinicians, and even before the pandemic, large numbers of providers reported experiencing burnout.

When providers are burned out, their ability to provide the highest quality of care decreases. Studies show that burnout is associated with increased patient safety incidents, including medical errors, reduced patient satisfaction and poorer safety and quality ratings.

Fortunately, tools exist that help give clinicians more time to focus on their patients and reconnect with the joy of practicing medicine. For example, Cerner is developing Virtual Scribe, a solution that leverages artificial intelligence, to help reduce the amount of time clinicians spend in data entry. Virtual Scribe offers an unobtrusive way to passively listen to the patient and clinician discussion and then suggests real-time actions. It can help reduce the cognitive switching between patient and computer and advance efforts to address clinician burnout.

There’s also Voice Assist, which aims to decrease the cognitive burden by enabling clinicians to search and retrieve patient data in the electronic health record (EHR), place orders, set up reminders and more by simply saying "Hey Cerner.”

Early recognition of sepsis

Sepsis is a life-threatening response to infection that impacts at least 1.7 million adults in America each year and results in loss of life for nearly 270,000 people in the U.S. annually. It’s difficult to detect in its earliest stages, and every hour the condition goes untreated increases a patient's 1-year mortality risk by 10%.

To help combat these startling statistics, teams at University of Missouri Health Care (MU Health Care) configured the Cerner Sepsis Management solution to automatically calculate each patient's national early warning score (NEWS) and help care teams follow MU Health Care’s NEWS-driven nursing protocol. Since MU Health Care turned on NEWS alerts at University Hospital in August 2019, rapid response calls increased 63% and code blue calls decreased 40%. MU Health Care estimates NEWS and NEWS-driven nursing protocol helped avoid 12 sepsis-related deaths in nine months. In addition, University Hospital’s mortality index — a ratio of observed deaths to expected deaths, given the severity of septic patients’ primary diagnoses and comorbidities — dropped 22% during that time. 

Genesis Health System also implemented Cerner Sepsis Management and enhanced related processes. The organization, which serves patients in a 17-county, bi-state region in Illinois and Iowa, experienced a 7.71% improvement in co-morbidity coding (comparing 16.45% to 24.25% measured from April 2017-June 2019) due to appropriately diagnosing sepsis.

Tackling opioid abuse

When used properly, opioid prescriptions can be a useful part of some pain management programs. Opioids are far too often abused, and it’s estimated that 16 million individuals worldwide have had or currently suffer from opioid use disorder. Over 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the U.S. in the 12 months ending in May 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period.

Data-driven solutions integrated into the EHR, such as the Cerner Opioid Toolkit, provide a one-stop shop for information related to opioid-related risk as well as clinical decision support at the point of prescribing. CoxHealth in Springfield, Missouri, leveraged the Opioid Toolkit as part of their efforts around tackling the opioid crisis. With the help of the toolkit, along with the formation of a stewardship committee and collaboration with the Cerner Patient Safety and Quality teams, the health system saw opioid prescriptions drop 18% among orthopedic and family practices.

Preventing patient falls

Studies show that patient falls occur at a rate of three to five per 1,000 bed-days, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality estimates that 700,000 to 1 million hospitalized patients fall each year. More than one-third of in-hospital falls result in injuries, including fractures and head trauma.

To provide clinicians with a more predictable, efficient way to keep patients safe and mitigate fall risks, leaders at Truman Medical Centers (TMC) in Kansas City, Missouri, implemented Cerner Patient Observer™ (CPO), a solution that tracks a patient’s movements using 3D cameras and warns trained technicians when the patient is at risk of falling. CPO allows virtual monitoring staff to communicate with patients and share patient assistance alerts with care team members. In the year following TMC’s implementation, observation staff efficiency across all medical-surgical and telemetry units grew 78%, while fall rates decreased 34% and falls with injury dropped 57%.

Advancing patient safety must be at the center of healthcare delivery. We all have a critical role to play fin driving safe and reliable care across the industry. As we work every day to promote cultures of safety within our organizations, technology and data are important tools to help healthcare professionals lead the charge for safer patient outcomes.

Cerner offers a dynamic suite of solutions and services with integrated clinical, financial and operational tools that can help your organization deliver better outcomes and continually advance patient care. Learn more here.