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‘Patient safety important not just for sufferer but society’
  • By Lee Han-soo
  • Published 2018.11.12 17:14
  • Updated 2018.11.12 17:14
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With the introduction of new technologies, healthcare has evolved to provide patients with better surgery options and prolonged life expectancy.

Dr. Paul Barach, a patient-safety expert and senior advisor to the dean at Jefferson College of Population Health, explains how patient safety can improve society during an interview with Korea Biomedical Review, at Myongji Hospital in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, on Monday.

Dr. Paul Barach, an eminent patient-safety expert and senior advisor to the dean at Jefferson College of Population Health, believes there is still more room for improvement regarding patient safety.

“Patient safety is a domain of inquiry that looks to design, deliver and improve the quality of service for patients so that they get the care they need without defects,” Barach said in an interview with Korea Biomedical Review Monday. He was visiting Myongji Hospital to attend a seminar and stress the importance of patient safety.

Patients and their family want to have a healthy life so that they can get away from healthcare, Barach noted. Nowadays, however, there are too many poorly designed healthcare services, making it hard for patients to reach that goal, he added.

“One in 10 patients are harmed in hospital care, while 5.7 to 8.4 million deaths occur annually because of poor care in hospitals, while 2 percent of the 234 million patients that go through surgical operations also experience complications,” he said. “Such poor services are causing quite a financial burden globally.”

According to Barach, the U.S. spends more than $300 billion, approximately 2 to 3 percent of its gross domestic product, to fix the problem.

One of the poor designs concerns medical technology. “Technology is powerful. However, the challenge is it is not well designed,” he noted. “It’s not just about the technology; it is more about how the technology is ergonomically designed to fit humans.”

It is essential for everyone to understand that people do not have to adapt to technology, but rather technology needs to be designed for people, he added.

The problem is that there are still many technologies that miss this component and does not consider the workflow of doctors, nurses, and pharmacists, resulting in adverse effects. If a hospital has a machine with many cables, for instance, they need to design it so as not to cause a hazardous environment,” Barach said.

The U.S. expert stressed the problem is not limited to physical hazards, though.

“In the case of electronic medical records (EMR) it removes interactions between the patient and healthcare provider,” he said. “An example of this would be a computer that a doctor looks at while treating the patient, which can be distracting. Therefore there is a need to consider how to develop a technology that does not take that connection away.”

What is important is not to take away that traditional relationship between the patient and the medical provider, he added.

Barach stressed this is paramount for patient safety.

“Engineers and technology developers have to remember that healthcare can never be about the technology but service, interaction and the relationship between the two,” he said. “Technology is there to help the medical providers as a support platform and not to replace the providers.”

Another crucial element in Barach’s views is the hospital’s architectural design.

“Architects that want to design a hospital can’t just move by the theory but visit the hospital,” he pointed out. “This is not a theoretically built hospital but is space and has constraints such as noise, infection, and interaction.”

Therefore, it is imperative to invite the architects and engineers to the hospitals, exposing them to such situations, he noted, adding that such architectural design is fundamental as some may cause harm to the patients.

“For example, if the hospital covered its floors with marble, it may look pretty, but it certainly is not good for an 80-year-old patient who might fall and break a part of their body and get additional injuries,” he said. “Of course, a hospital cannot customize its features to meet everyone’s demand, but it is possible to customize to certain groups as diabetics and elderly patients.”

Barach said Myongji Hospital seems to have done its job to meet such conditions

“Although very brief, I was impressed by the workflow, ergonomic design, quietness and the spaces of this hospital,” he said. “The Electronic Intensive Care Unit (eICU) was very orderly, lots of light and removing unneeded objects such as cables, while the VIP ward was very harmonious and well-crafted.”

Korea has an exceptional willingness to change, and as the country has a high-quality technology, if it applies such features to taking care of patients, the country can give patients a healthier and happier life, while reducing costs, he concluded.


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