Staffing shortages and health care workers’ mental health top a list of patient safety concerns released by ECRI , the nation’s largest nonprofit patient safety organization.
While the annual list is typically dominated by clinical issues caused by device malfunctions or medical errors, ECRI researchers say the most significant concerns at present are caused by crises that have simmered, but COVID-19 exponentially worsened.
“Shortages in the health care workforce and mental health challenges were broadly known and well-documented for years,” says Marcus Schabacker, MD, PhD, president and CEO of ECRI. “Both physicians and nurses were at risk of burnout, emotional exhaustion, and depression prior to 2020, but the pandemic made both issues significantly worse.”
While both trends were known, their effect on patient care was not well documented. Now, ECRI researchers say inadequate staffing is actively jeopardizing patient safety. Due to staffing shortages, many patients are waiting longer for care, even in life-threatening emergencies, or simply being turned away.
With reports of more health care workers planning on leaving the industry, ECRI experts say patients could face even higher risks without proactive solutions. Without intervention, the chaos and understaffing in hospitals and other health care settings seen over the last two years could become the new normal for the foreseeable future.
“Health care and government leaders now must aggressively manage these challenges amidst a lingering pandemic and a weakened health system by prioritizing recruitment, retention, and clinician resilience,” Schabacker says. “As leaders, their most important job is ensuring that patient health and safety are top priorities.”
“ECRI’s report is a roadmap to help prioritize patient safety initiatives and allocate necessary resources that accelerate organizations in their total system approach to safety,” says Brigitta Mueller, MD, executive director of patient safety, risk, and quality at ECRI. “We are here to help health care and government leaders as they finally address these longstanding issues in a comprehensive, forward-thinking way.”
To identify the most pressing patient safety threats, ECRI analyzed a wide scope of data, including scientific literature, patient safety events or concerns reported to or investigated by ECRI, client research requests and queries, and other internal and external data sources.
The top 10 patient safety concerns for 2022 are the following:
The Top 10 Patient Safety Concerns report provides detailed steps that organizations can take to prevent adverse incidents and is available for download at www.ecri.org/top-10-patient-safety-concerns-2022.