New technology decreases risk of deadly medical mistakes

It's supposed to be a place you go to for help, but sometimes, a trip to the hospital can turn into a patient's worst nightmare.

One in five Americans say themselves or a family member were victims of a medical mistake. Now, hospitals are taking steps to ensure patients stay safe.

She looks like a typical young girl.

"Candace was the most beautiful, loving little girl," says Candace's mother Mathy Milling Downing. "She was everybody's friend."

But at 12, Candace Downing was diagnosed with anxiety disorder and prescribed an antidepressant. An overdose of the drug resulted in the unthinkable.

"I took her to the doctor that afternoon," says Mathy. "He said, 'she's great. Come back in two weeks,' and my beautiful, happy, loving 12-year-old, hanged herself."

Medication errors cause at least 7,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, but now this machine -- called PillPick -- is making sure the right patients get the right drugs.

"The pill picker prevents the wrong medication from being given to the patient at the bedside," explains pharmacist John Ilic of the Loyola University Medical Center.

The robot puts a single dose of meds in a small plastic bag. Each bag has a bar code identifying the drug. A nurse scans it along with a bar code on the patient's wristband. If the computer detects the wrong drug or dose, an alert sounds.

New technology is also putting the breaks on hospital-acquired infections. To remind workers to wash up more often, this sensor, worn as a badge, detects whether employees have washed their hands.

"A light on the badge will turn green, signifying that the health care worker has washed his or her hands," says epidemiologist Dr. Michael Edmond.

Workers apply an alcohol-based hand sanitizer outside a patient's room. Once they enter, the badge checks their hands for the presence of alcohol. A red light means no alcohol. A green light means they can treat the patient.

Two new ways hospitals are improving care and saving lives.

There are two key questions experts say you must ask if you're a patient in the hospital.

The first: whether the hospital has had any major safety issues with MRSA or other bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

The second: the turnover rate of nurses. If it's more than 10 percent, it could be a red flag that nurses aren't happy, which may compromise your care.

REPORT #1666

PILLPICK: According to the Food and Drug Administration, at least one death occurs per day, and 1.3 million people are injured each year due to medication errors. The PillPick pharmacy automation system is only available in North America. The purpose of the machine is to provide easy filling and refilling of medications and accurate labeling to reduce medication errors. The robot places single doses of medication in small plastic bags. Each bag has a barcode identifying the drug. A nurse will scan the barcode along with a barcode on the patient's wristband. If the computer detects a wrong drug or wrong dose, a warning will appear, and an alert will sound.

CLEAN HANDS, CLEAN HOSPITAL: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 250 people die from hospital-acquired infections in the United States every day. During a hospital stay, people have a one in 20 chance of contracting such an infection. Two of the more dangerous hospital-acquired infections are MRSA and C. diff, which are both classified as being resistant to antibiotics. MRSA stands for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, but it is resistant not only to methicillin but also to other more common antibiotics like oxacillin, penicillin and amoxicillin. MRSA and other staph infections occur most often among people staying in hospitals and nursing homes who have weakened immune systems. C. diff, or
Clostridium difficile, is a common, usually harmless bug that about 3 percent of healthy adults harbor in their bodies. The overuse of antibiotics has pushed the germ to develop resistance to treatment. The more virulent form of C. diff can cause persistent diarrhea, blood poisoning and even death. According to government figures, infections caused by C. diff more than doubled between 2000 and 2005. In 2005, 28,600 people in the U.S. died from it. (Source: MSNBC)

PREVENTING INFECTION: Experts say the best way to prevent hospital-acquired infections is by practicing good hand-washing techniques. In the largest and most comprehensive scientific study ever done to compare the effectiveness of hand hygiene products, scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill looked at how effective 14 different hand hygiene agents were at reducing bacteria and viruses from the hands. Subjects first cleaned their hands and were then exposed to a harmless bacterium and a virus comparable to disease-causing organisms. They then cleaned their hands with the various agents, and after, the scientists measured how much bacteria and virus remained. The study showed after just 10 seconds of exposure, nearly all the hand hygiene products reduced 90 percent of bacteria on the hands while waterless, alcohol-based hand wipes only removed about 50 percent of bacteria from the subjects' hands.

Jim Ritter
Senior Manager, Media Relations
Loyola University Medical Center

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