Healthcare Work Environments Not Always Healthy

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Is the work environment in your hospital safe for health professionals?

We ask this after reading a particularly disturbing piece by Kevin B. O’Reilly at American Medical News. He writes, “The experience of working in American healthcare is being drained of joy and meaning amid a rising rate of occupational injuries, episodes of verbal abuse and physical assaults from colleagues, and a seemingly relentless drive to provide more care in less time.”

Not surprisingly, O’Reilly adds, this gets in the way of quality and patient-safety efforts.

The National Patient Safety Foundation’s Lucian Leape Institute released a report detailing just how “toxic” healthcare environments have become, concluding, “Production and cost pressures have reduced complex, intimate, caregiving relationships into a series of demanding tasks performed under severe time constraints.”

According to O’Reilly, the Institute reported, “The injury rate in healthcare is 5.6 per 100 full-time employees, 33 percent higher than the rate for all of private industry… Musculoskeletal injuries related to lifting and moving patients are the leading culprits. Many health professionals also are improperly exposed to infected patients and bloodborne pathogens.”

This research only affirms several surveys that have come before it. A 2011 survey from the American College of Physician Executives and online physician education provider QuantiaMD, discovered that 70 percent of all physicians see “disruptive behavior…at least once a month,” with 11 percent reporting daily “outbursts.” Most of the physicians in this survey blamed the behavior on the workload expected of employees.

Also, a study in JAMA found “about 80 percent of misdiagnoses at five primary-care clinics were related to problems in the patient encounter,” listing shorter visits, exam errors, and medical history-taking as the key trouble areas.

A study from last year (May 2012) from the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality “found that more than 70 percent of doctors and others working in medical offices feel rushed when taking care of patients.”

Researcher Alan H. Rosenstein, M.D., observes, “Over the years, physicians and nurses have worked harder and harder and nobody thought much about it, because they were able to do it without breaking. Now they’re starting to break.”

The Leape Institute advocates “evidence-based management skills that improve an organization’s reliability, communication, and teamwork; offering wellness and peer-support programs; and sharing quality and safety data to encourage problem-solving instead of finger-pointing.”

So, we return to our original question. Is the work environment in your hospital safe for health professionals? If so, what are your thoughts as healthcare leaders on creating healthy workplace environments? Have you applied any specific management techniques to solving issues that have arisen?

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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