How to Reduce Medical Errors

New Strategy to Reduce Medical Errors: Be Nice to the Nurse

A study* published in the Journal of Applied Psychology explores what happens to customer service employees’ cognitive functioning when they encountering rude customers.  Since nurses are the ultimate customer service employees, this research is appropriate for both waiters in restaurants and nurses in the hospital.

The study shows minor verbal aggression can negatively affect an employee’s performance.  Under hostile circumstances, the employee experiences memory and perception problems:  he or she feels upset, contemplates what went wrong, and dwells on the encounter.  These extraneous brain functions distract employees and lead to errors.

Some errors are more serious than others.  When a waitress makes an error at a restaurant, the result is frustrating.  If a nurse makes a mistake at the hospital, a patient may be physically harmed or worse.  In 1999 the Institute of Medicine published “To Err is Human”  which concluded that between 48,000 to 98,000 patients die each year as a result of preventable medical errors.  In 2004 HealthGrades conducted a study  that showed an average of 195,000 patients died between the years of 2000 and 2002 because of potentially preventable in-hospital medical errors.  A report released in 2010 by the Office of the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that in-patient medical errors contributed to the deaths of 180,000 patients every year.  A New England Journal of Medicine study published in 2010 showed approximately 18% of hospital patients are injured during the course of their stay and that many of those incidences are life-threatening, or even fatal.  A study published in 2011 showed that medical errors occur in one-third of hospital admissions which is 10 times more than previously estimated.

Hospitals have implemented countless strategies for reducing errors that are sound in theory but are not significantly reducing the number of mistakes which continue to occur.  Because nurses make errors when they encounter aggression, it is important to be nice to the nurse when visiting friends or family in the hospital.  Bad behavior when directed at a nurse can have fatal consequences.

So please, BE NICE TO THE NURSE.   In doing so, you might prevent a medical error and save a patient’s life.

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