Why is Pushing the Wrong Button So Easy?

By Sarveshwari Singh

On the first day of the Telluride East Summer Camp, Kathy Pischke-Winn and Dr. Joe Halbach organized a game using dominoes.   It really showed how miscommunication in health care can happen so easily and how simple steps can prevent it.

We assembled in groups of three — one person role-played a doctor, another a nurse, and the other an administrator.  The physician sat with his/her back to the nurse and instructed the nurse how to arrange the dominos according to a prescribed pattern.  The nurse couldn’t ask any questions.  Not surprisingly, the nurse didn’t arrange them correctly.

This scenario brought home how communication disconnects among clinicians happens so often in health care, and it underscores why a leading cause of errors is failure in communication.  Also, informal rules can deter students and residents from asking questions, which can lead to a really bad outcome. That’s what happened to Lewis Blackman, as we saw in Tears to Transparency.

Next, the group got a different domino pattern and could have a briefing before the start of the game.  Also, I noticed that in our group, the person playing the physician gave more precise instructions and repeated them for more clarity.  So there was learning and improvement between the first and second rounds. This time, the person role-playing the nurse arranged the dominoes correctly.

I took away from this experience lessons on how I need to be precise in communicating, whether in the classroom, at work or at home.

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#TPSER9 Reflections: Day Three

By Mary Blackwell, Nursing Student, UPenn

By the end of day three my mind is saturated and I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to be here at the Telluride East Conference. Aside from the twins in utero, as a rising senior in UPenn’s undergraduate nursing program I am certainly the youngest conference attendee. As a student, and a nursing student at that, in the hospital I often feel like the lowest on the food chain. But in this environment of open communication the medical hierarchy collapses and it amazes me to see various healthcare professionals come together for the betterment of patient outcomes. Never before have I had personal connections or meaningful conversations with interdisciplinary healthcare students surrounding issues in healthcare. Because it is so clearly valuable to have these types of conversations, I wonder why academic programs don’t put a larger effort into connecting various healthcare students during their training. Having positive experiences with one another while we’re all still humbled by the title of student could change the culture of staff dynamics in our future clinical settings.

Over the course of the past two days we have heard several stories of near miss or sentinel events in hospitals across the country. As individuals focused on honing our clinical knowledge and skill, it is inevitable to put ourselves in the shoes of the providers in these cases. I shared the shame that several students expressed during these presentations. It was difficult to watch mistake after critical mistake during the tears to transparency videos. It made me cringe in frustration and anticipation as I watched medical professionals continue cause harm to trusting patients. It’s hard to imagine missing the telling vitals signs in the story of Lewis Blackman or passively allowing the sedated Michael Skolnik to sign a consent form. However the focus of our discussions have been that many of these errors arise from faulty systems, not faulty health professionals.

During Terry Fairbank’s discussion of human factors engineering I was able to understand how systems can keep professionals from practicing to their full potential. One of the great examples of systematic hazard was the nurse who accidentally hit the wrong button on the defibrillator in an emergency situation. Instead of delivering the necessary shock to the patient in cardiac arrest, the defibrillator turned off. This delay the life saving care for the patient decreased the patient’s chance of survival. I could imagine myself making this mistake as easily as I do when quickly pressing the wrong button on my cell phone or car. A normal error such as this could happen to anyone in a high stress environment. The instrument was poorly designed; the off button was green while the correct button in this situation was red and flashing. In our society, green means go and red flashing means stop so this design is counter-intuitive.

For the first time I appreciated my constant second-guessing as a student. It’s when patient care becomes routine, second nature that mistakes are easier to make without systematic support. It’s going to be great for us to all go back to our institutions hyper-aware of these systematic barriers.

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