With National Nurses Week coming up (May 6-12, 2015), it’s a good time to remember the old adage that working smarter trumps working longer or harder.

Studies have shown that 17 hours of sustained wakefulness is equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.05% and that after 24 hours, it is equivalent to 0.10%.  (You may be interested in: The Joint Commission Sentinel Event Alert Issue 48: Health care worker fatigue and patient safety.)

That’s why we’re reminded to pull off the road when drowsy. That’s why commercial airline pilots are limited to 100 hours of flying time per month. That’s why there are federal regulations limiting the hours of service for commercial truck drivers.

That’s also why first-year hospital residents now work shifts no longer than 16 hours in duration. But, what about nurses, the people who spend the most time caring for hospital patients?  Who’s is looking out for nurses?

Fatigue due to long hours, chaotic work conditions and changing shifts definitely impacts the ability to deliver quality patient care. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) says any work period outside of the eight-hour-per- day, five-day-per-week schedule may “lead to increased fatigue, stress and lack of concentration” which in turn may increase the risk of “operator error, injuries and accidents.”

Yet, to date only 14 states have laws against mandatory overtime for nurses. Those are: AK, CT, IL, MD, MA, MN, NH, NY, OR, PA, RI, TX, WA, WV and two have provisions in regulations – CA and MO as of 12/2014.

This undoubtedly contributes to an environment that is becoming increasingly dangerous for the patient. Preventable medical errors are the third leading cause of death in America, behind heart disease (1st) and cancer (2nd).

Over the past decade in Pennsylvania alone, healthcare worker fatigue was a contributing factor in over 1,600 “events,” 62 percent of which were medication errors.

An Institute of Medicine (IOM) 2012 study entitled “Best Care at Lower Cost,” reported that one in three hospital patients experienced some form of Hospital Acquired Conditions (HACs), ranging from minor injuries to death.

Even more disturbing is a recent study of medical errors in U.S. hospitals which suggests that the true number of annual deaths due to preventable errors may be more than four times more than the often-quoted 98,000 deaths per year put forth in the IOM’s decade-old study “To Err is Human.”

The IOM study was based on 1984 figures. The new study, published in the Journal of Patient Safety, was based on four surveys completed between 2008 and 2011. It determined that between 210,000 and 400,000 hospital patients each year suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death, and that patients harmed by preventable errors may be 20 times that number.

The study’s authors speculate that increased production demands, suboptimal working conditions, decreased staff and a physician shortage are causing fatigue and burnout, which may be the basis for the increase in errors.

So in healthcare, perhaps more than most other endeavors, working longer, harder, faster becomes counter-productive. But in this case the end product isn’t a widget that will need to be recalled. It’s a human life.

The cost of healthcare continues to skyrocket. Yet despite the investments in new technology, things don’t seem to be improving quickly enough in the area of patient safety.

Maybe that’s because hospitals are investing in the wrong technologies. Perhaps healthcare workers need technology that helps them work more efficiently.

Well, there’s an app for that!

Actually, it’s a platform. It was designed to help hospital staff deliver safer, more efficient care.

It’s called the Healthcare Operations Command Center. It puts all care support functions online and automates the triggers which place those functions in motion. One of its many benefits is that it eliminates a lot of the busy work and chaotic stress that keeps nurses away from the bedside. It’s the natural evolution of automated patient flow, which TeleTracking Technologies pioneered over two decades ago.

To learn more about the concept of a healthcare operations command center, watch the video below featuring Carilion Clinic and their state of the art Transfer & Communication Center.

Technology is most valuable when it extends the reach of human endeavor and gives back precious time to the caregiver.

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