Radiation, alarm-related incidents top the 2011 list of health-tech hazards

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For the past several years, the ECRI Institute, a nonprofit organization that researches the best ways to improve patient care, has come up with a list of the top 10 health technology hazards.

According to ECRI, the list represents the potential sources of danger for patients and staff that warrant the greatest attention for hospitals and healthcare facilities. The goal is to increase awareness and prevent problems in the coming year.

The 2011 list, originally published in ECRI Institute's Health Devices journal (November 2010), provides information on how these hazards occur and recommendations on how to prevent them as well as a comprehensive resource list for more in-depth information.

Here are the top five health technology hazards:

1. Radiation overdose and other dose errors during radiation therapy. The incidences of such errors appears to be low, but are likely underreported, the report says. The issue warrants attention because radiation dose errors are rarely immediately apparent.
2. Alarm hazards. Alarm-related incidents are all too common, the report notes. Staff can become overwhelmed by the sheer number of alarms, which can result in staff improperly modifying alarm settings or becoming desensitized to alarms.
3. Cross contamination from flexible endoscope. Patient cross contamination from failure to follow established cleaning/disinfection instructions can affect large groups of patients. At minimum, it can inconvenience patients and create anxiety; at worst, it can lead to life-threatening infections.
4. The high radiation dose of CT scans. High radiation doses generated during computed tomography (CT) are believed to increase a patient’s risk for cancer.
5. Data loss, system incompatibilities and other health IT complications. Problems with medical technology can lead to data being lost or being associated with the wrong patient, which in turn can lead to misdiagnosis, inappropriate treatment, or the need for repeat testing.

“From dose errors during radiation therapy, to critical patient alarms that are set incorrectly, inappropriately silenced, or ignored, each of the problems on our list can be prevented or made less likely to occur if recommendations are employed,” says James Keller, ECRI’s vice president of health technology and safety.

The complete list with details and recommendations is available to healthcare professionals for free with registration at the ECRI website. Visit https://www.ecri.org/Forms/Pages/2011_Top_10_Technology_Hazards.aspx to obtain access.