How to Address Pandemic-Related Patient Safety Threats

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)’s Patient Safety Network (PSNet) published its annual perspective with a summary of COVID-19’s impact on patient safety. As noted by PSNet, the feature highlights “vital and emerging patient safety topics,” and this year’s report, titled “Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Patient Safety,” addresses the unprecedented changes imposed by the pandemic.

To optimize patient safety, PSNet researchers say physicians and health systems must account for major pandemic-related disruptions when delivering future care. The focus areas outlined in the perspective piece include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Impact on Usual Care: Due to social distancing practices and care prioritization, elective procedures, routine care and even some emergency treatments have been delayed over the past year, leading to an increased likelihood of poor patient health outcomes. To close gaps in care, healthcare organizations “need to communicate and demonstrate to patients their commitment to safety,” explains the report. Furthermore, the shift to telehealth requires implementation of thoughtful patient engagement practices that ensure patients maintain trust in their healthcare providers.
  • Potential Errors and Harms Associated with the COVID-19 Pandemic: PSNet says major risks to patient safety include cognitive and anchoring biases surrounding COVID-19 that lead to diagnostic errors.  Additionally, inadequate staff training and PPE availability significantly increases the chance of infectious disease transmission; and
  • Mitigating Risks of Adverse Events: To ensure preparedness for future disasters, the authors recommend proactive management of vaccine storage and administration, as well as critical medical devices and equipment. Additionally, rapid implementation of telehealth requires providers to assess their current technology capabilities and ensure these systems properly meet patient care needs.

Moving forward, the experts also advise physicians and healthcare organizations to prioritize risks associated with physician burnout, supply-chain safety, antibiotic stewardship, the amplification of care disparities and long-haul COVID-19. Lastly, as COVID-19 vaccines become increasingly available, providers, particularly those in primary care, are reminded they play a critical role in facilitating “an effective and efficient nationwide vaccination program for both healthcare personnel and the general public.”

Policyholders are encouraged to review the complete report on the AHRQ website, in order to assess these risks and how they may apply to your organization.  Additionally, MLMIC offers resources such as our blog and Risk Management Tips with recommendations for minimizing risks associated with these topics.