Hospital wards are often busy places. Doctors, nurses and other assistants have to spread their time among numerous patients - juggling a large number of details and information about each individual person. In many cases, hospitals admit more patients than their staffing levels can safely handle.
A recent survey of hospital physicians reveals some of the problems that can result from patient overloading. The responding doctors pointed to high workloads as a central factor in many cases of dangerous medical mistakes. This post will summarize some of the most concerning statistics that emerged from this study:
1. Forty percent of physicians said their workloads exceeded safe levels at least once per month; 36 percent said that high patient loads became dangerous at least once every week.
2. A quarter of responding doctors said that a lack of time for in-person assessments led them to order potentially unnecessary procedures and tests.
3. Another quarter of respondents said that overwork "likely contributed" to mortality, morbidity and a need for more intense care (for example, an upgrade to an ICU).
4. One in five respondents said that patient loads led them to "cross-cover" more patients than they safely could.
5. Twenty-five percent of the doctors said that they regularly ran out of time to fully discuss treatment options with patients or answer questions.
6. More than twenty percent of doctors reported that they had to delay an admission or discharge to a later shift.
7. Eighteen percent of the doctors said that excessive workloads led them to pass patients to another physician without doing enough to guarantee a safe "hand-off."
8. Ten percent admitted that they failed to respond to important lab results - simply because they had too many patients at a single time.
9. Another ten percent said that they failed to properly upgrade a patient to a higher or more urgent level of care.
10. Finally, 14 percent of the respondents said that their high workloads increased readmission rates for patients.
These statistics represent a big problem for patient safety in the United States. With an estimated 98,000 patients dying every year from preventable medical errors, the healthcare profession needs to take note of studies like this and find ways to provide higher quality care.
Source: MedPage Today, "Patients Suffer if Hospitalists Overworked," Cole Petrochko, Jan. 28, 2013