When I Became the Patient
When I Became the Patient
For well over half of my career I have been validating blood bank computer software. Before that I was on the side of working in and managing a blood center based centralized transfusion service and reference laboratory. Every day my goal was to make sure that my family members would receive quality care if they were on the receiving end of work I performed.
Recently, I have had to be the patient, and that puts a whole different perspective on things. I have had two hospital stays for knee surgeries since June. When you think about everything that goes into patient care – from pharmacy, lab, surgery, nursing care, anesthesia, physical therapy, food service, etc. – there are so many opportunities for medical errors. Thank goodness we have computer systems to help document and perform checks to help ensure safe care, but these systems are only beneficial when they have been carefully and thoughtfully configured, validated, and utilized.
Each time when I went in for my pre-op testing, I had the fortune of dealing with the same funny, personable nurse. She made a tense process far less stressful. It was entertaining to see her grumble about how things were set up in their computer system, but I knew why those things were that way – for my safety. So many people just take the computer software for granted or look at it as a tedious process at times, but it really does provide additional safety. I used my experience to educate her on some of the finer points of software validation during each visit, so my job was done.
Looking back on my first lab job after college, we really did not have a computer system for the blood bank; we mainly had manual records of everything. For each patient blood bank order, we had to look in 4 separate places for previous patient history and dig through lots of records to get clear pictures of a patient’s history. If you forgot to look in even one of those places or failed to thoroughly review the patient’s manual records, you could be missing out on pertinent information. We once had an instance with a “new” patient; the patient had been admitted a few days prior, had clinically significant antibodies, and was then released after being transfused. The supervisor review had not been completed so those records were in the “to be reviewed” area. The patient was readmitted the day after initial dismissal. A new tech failed to check that one area for records and found nothing in the other areas so the patient was treated as a new patient with no history. We were very fortunate that the patient’s antibodies were still present in the new specimen, or the outcome could have been very different for that patient. With our current blood bank software systems, that tech would have had the ability to find that information and have all of the safety checks that the software provides.
I was very fortunate to have exceptional care in my hospital stays, and their computer system did prevent me from getting a medication that should not be given since I have an allergy to a different medication that has a cross-reactive effect with the one I was prescribed. At times computers can feel like they take forever, but they are safer and quicker in the end over manual records. Those extra few clicks and scans can make a huge difference in someone’s life… even mine.