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Medical errors: The third leading cause of deaths

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Chris Sullivan, Global Healthcare Practice Lead, Zebra Technologies Corporation, tells Akanki Sharma how medical errors pose a threat, and the ways with which these can be resolved 

What are the most common medical errors that hamper the diagnosis of disease? Reasons? How is technology helping to fill this gap?

Medical errors can be caused due to many reasons, including communication problems, inadequate information flow aMednd staffing, just to name a few. The global healthcare industry itself is facing a seemingly insurmountable number of challenges – from ageing populations and staff shortages to rising costs – that are placing enormous pressure on institutions, doctors, workers, patients and communities.

As a result, there is a higher demand for services and support that are not sustainable with existing resources and methods. Hospitals are increasingly turning to technology and automation to reduce the strain on an already fragile system. The adoption of clinical mobility helps hospitals around the world to eliminate manual, error-prone procedures and replacing them with digital solutions that increase the accuracy of patient identification, streamline processes, improve the quality of patient care and enhance overall visibility. By digitally capturing information, data can be transmitted in real-time to clinical staff, reducing and even eliminating errors, and delivering critical time savings.

According to a Harvard study, 5.2 million medical errors occur in India annually. What are its adverse impacts and how are these tackled?

Globally, medical errors are one of the leading causes of death. To add, a John Hopkins study claims that more than 250,000 people die in the US every year from medical errors, and it is the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer.

As medical errors are primarily a result of human mistakes, it is possible to leverage the right technology like clinical mobility solutions to overcome the challenges. Some of these solutions include:

  • Expanding the use of mobile devices – Hospitals are already realising gains in productivity by outfitting key personnel with mobile devices. The recent Hospital Vision Study by Zebra showed that by 2022, 97 per cent of nurses will use mobile devices at the bedside which will help instil greater patient confidence. The study also revealed an increase in the number of medical disciplines embracing clinical mobility solutions including emergency room nurses, pharmacists and lab technicians. In fact, by 2020, the usage of mobile devices is expected to grow up to 40 per cent for all hospital workers. Rich applications, remote patient monitoring and artificial intelligence will enliven the daily work experience and empower clinicians with greater insights and information to treat patients.
  • Enriching staff communications – According to The Joint Commission, 70 per cent of medical errors are attributable to communication breakdowns. By integrating clinical mobility throughout their organisations, hospitals will improve staff communication, make real-time access to medical records possible and ensure faster availability of lab results, to name just a few. Mobile devices enable nurses to spend more time at the patient’s bedside. Over 65 per cent of nurse managers and IT executives cite improved communication and collaboration as the primary benefit of clinical mobility for patient care.
  • Elevating patient care – According to the Hospital Vision study, 72 per cent of respondents cite improved quality of patient care as a direct result of clinical mobility. Additionally, 61 per cent of hospitals surveyed reported a reduction in medication administration errors, and 52 per cent cited decreased specimen collection labelling errors, positively affecting patient care.
  • Rising personalisation of healthcare – The digital hospital of the future will not only be more efficient, but also deliver better care, become more affordable and more deeply engage patients in their treatment and recovery. Most respondents expect analytics technology to improve the quality of healthcare globally. In addition, tech-savvy patients are finding comfort in technology and are, in fact, bringing their data with them to the hospital. Ninety five per cent of patients surveyed are willing to share electronic health metrics.

What are the solutions offered by Zebra Technologies to avoid medical errors, and how will these empower the frontline staff?

Zebra Technologies is at the forefront of innovating the latest technology solutions in healthcare, from patient identification to mobile healthcare and real-time intelligence. These solutions empower frontline staff with a performance edge to deliver the best patient care, thereby ensuring that the right patient receives the right care at the right time. Our healthcare solutions include: patient identity management – enables precision when matching patient records, medication, specimens and more; mobile health for collaborative care – designed to enable provider collaboration, simplify workflows, and capture and access patient information anywhere; real-time locating systems (RTLS) and business intelligence for healthcare – helps to identify, track, locate and monitor the condition of patients, assets and staff.

How are the latest digital technologies like AI, IoT implemented in Zebra technologies?

Currently, Zebra Technologies is empowering those on the frontline in healthcare and other industries to achieve a performance edge by providing them with actionable insights to make business-critical decisions. For instance, Zebra’s Savanna Data Services, which is a cloud-based capability, provides a more complete business picture to help transform operations, thereby allowing its adopters to collect and process data from Zebra hardware in real-time and turning raw data into actionable insights. The platform is designed to help unlock the potential of data to build more intelligent, productive applications and solutions. Further, the firm is actively acquiring new technologies to complement its wide spectrum of solutions, including Temptime Corporation, Profitect Inc and Cortexica Visions Systems.

Give details on the number of organisations you cater to in India and around the world.

Globally, some of our clients include Truman Medical Centers, Nagasaki University Hospital and the Seoul National University Bundang Hospital. In India, we are working with the vaccine manufacturers around the temperature-monitoring solution, and are helping them make sure that when they manufacture a product, it has a temperature-monitoring indicator on the product. When the vaccine is used in a rural setting, and if it has been in transportation for a long time, this helps ensure that vaccine is safe and effective.

Additionally, Zebra is working with some of the largest private healthcare systems. We are introducing mobile devices to clinicians and have just completed a pilot study that demonstrated 1.5-hour savings per shift per every single nurse. Zebra solutions also help to connect smart technologies and eliminate paperwork, so that nurses can spend more time with their patients.

How receptive do you think is the Indian diagnostics industry for the new innovative technologies? What does the future look like?

Globally, the healthcare industry is a fast-growing sector and we have witnessed the exponential adoption of technology by many hospitals and clinicians around the world. That said, India’s healthcare sector is not adopting technology as fast as its counterparts in the rest of the world due to various reasons, including costs. However, we are positive that technological adoption will gradually pick up in India’s healthcare sector as local hospitals and clinicians realise that having the right technology can help in reducing healthcare errors.

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