Medical Error – How Technology Can Come To The Rescue

Nov 5, 2020 | Clinical AI

Medical errors account for a substantial number of patient’s suffering, thousands of avoidable deaths, as well as millions of pounds in costs every year. Approximately, 237 million medical mistakes happen in England each year. With the current global pandemic in full force, the prevalence and growth of these errors across the healthcare industry will have a more significant impact. Reducing medical errors and minimising the risk for patient safety has, therefore, become paramount, with a focus on technology in alleviating these issues.

The role and importance of technology in healthcare has become more acknowledged over the past decade which has seen a rapid increase in the development and implementation of digital technologies by health organisations. Leveraging digital technologies in healthcare have proven to be integral to prevent, diagnose and treat medical errors and illnesses with a great degree of accuracy thus improving overall patient safety.

Improving Diagnosis

One of the greatest threats to patient safety and the most common medical errors are attributed to misdiagnosing patients. The failure to diagnose, or delayed or incorrect diagnosis is among the leading factors that cause permanent disability and around 22,000 preventable deaths in the UK each year. Most medical errors can be attributed to cognitive deficits or biases, meaning  doctors or nurses are prone to make mental mistakes based on the circumstances they are in or due to gaps in their knowledge or skills that affect their ability to accurately diagnose conditions. Research suggests that the most frequently misdiagnosed conditions include Cancer, Heart attack or stroke, appendicitis and pulmonary embolism. Such errors that have serious consequences and risk to patients’ health, can be tackled through the use of technology. For example, implementing Artificial Intelligence powered technologies into diagnosis procedures aids in making a faster  and accurate diagnosis on a patient’s condition which thus enables prompt treatment and increased chances of survival. AI algorithms analyse huge amounts of data quickly and can spot anomalies and provide useful insights. With the increasing complexity in healthcare outstripping human cognitive capacities, using technologies such as AI can facilitate transformation in various areas and mitigate diagnostic errors.

Improving Medication Administration Errors

Errors in the prescription of medication have been a key concern for patient safety over the last decade. These errors can occur through administering the wrong medication, incorrect doses, incorrect timing of administration and wrong route/application of medications – all of which pose great risk to patients’ lives and directly impact their health and wellbeing. Medication errors occur around 237 million times in the NHS with an estimate of 61.4 million to cause moderate or severe harm, as well as avoidable adverse drug reactions (ADRs) which cause around 700+ deaths every year. Battling a global fight with coronavirus has increased the potential of such errors where the wrong medicine being prescribed can be fatal for patients. The adoption and advancement of technology is therefore crucial in eliminating these issues and helping the world navigate the pandemic. Innovations including electronic prescribing systems, robots to fill prescriptions, automated dispensing devices and barcoding have been studied and proven to not only considerably reduce errors in medication administration and data entry but also increase efficiency of care and reduce costs. Such technologies can also improve communication between physicians and patients which is another problem that needs to be effectively addressed. With patient safety being a top priority, the use and impact of such technologies are enormous in promoting a greater degree of orientation where doctors and nurses can devote more attention to patients and other important tasks, as well as optimal medical administration and detecting and resolving problems.

Improving Surgical Error

Despite the fact that standards and guidelines of surgical procedures are usually high in the UK, surgical errors are statistically increasing due to the pressure on resources and increase in the total number of yearly surgical operations carried out. Between April 2018 and July 2019, a total of 629 “never events” occurred in NHS practices meaning serious, largely preventable patient safety incidents that should not occur. In total, 270 of these incidents were due to wrong site surgery (operation is performed on the wrong part of the body) and 127 cases of foreign objects retained inside people post their operation – including surgical needles, swabs and wires. In addition to the listed errors above, other forms of surgical error can include; wrong implant/prosthesis, wrong procedure and wrong patient. Preventing such incidents requires  new  technologies that can make surgical procedures safer, more accurate and minimise the risk of error dramatically. Robot assisted surgeries can reduce the variation in performance of staff, enable better access to parts of the human body which are usually hard to reach as well as improve accuracy and precision in procedures. Additionally, it can significantly decrease the risk for patients through the ability to magnify images and phase out the fulcrum effect, resulting in reduced wound infections and shorter hospital stays following medical operations. 3D bio-printing of organs and tissues are also promising solutions that can reduce complications associated with transplants through building and layering cells over each other to create artificial living tissues that can reduce the likelihood of immune rejection of a new transplant as well as reducing long waiting times for suitable donors. This technology can also be applied to other parts of the body as well and is expected to be key in surgery within the next two decades.

By Esma Parmak