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High stakes and high emotions: providing safe care in Canadian emergency departments

Authors Ali S, Thomson D, Graham TAD, Rickard SE, Stang AS

Received 18 September 2016

Accepted for publication 19 December 2016

Published 19 January 2017 Volume 2017:9 Pages 23—26

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/OAEM.S122646

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Dr Hans-Christoph Pape


Samina Ali,1,2 Denise Thomson,3 Timothy A D Graham,4 Sean E Rickard,3 Antonia S Stang5

1Women and Children’s Health Research Institute, 2Department of Pediatrics, 3Cochrane Child Health Field, Department of Pediatrics, University of Alberta, Edmonton, 4Department of Emergency Medicine, 5Section of Emergency Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada

Background: The high-paced, unpredictable environment of the emergency department (ED) contributes to errors in patient safety. The ED setting becomes even more challenging when dealing with critically ill patients, particularly with children, where variations in size, weight, and form present practical difficulties in many aspects of care. In this commentary, we will explore the impact of the health care providers’ emotional reactions while caring for critically ill patients, and how this can be interpreted and addressed as a patient safety issue.
Discussion: ED health care providers encounter high-stakes, high-stress clinical scenarios, such as pediatric cardiac arrest or resuscitation. This health care providers’ stress, and at times, distress, and its potential contribution to medical error, is underrepresented in the current medical literature. Most patient safety research is limited to error reporting systems, especially medication-related ones, an approach that ignores the effects of health care provider stress as a source of error, and limits our ability to learn from the event. Ways to mitigate this stress and avoid this type of patient safety concern might include simulation training for rare, high-acuity events, use of pre-determined clinical order sets, and post-event debriefing.
Conclusion: While there are physiologic and anatomic differences that contribute to patient safety, we believe that they are insufficient to explain the need to address critical life-threatening event-related patient safety issues for both adults and, especially, children. Many factors make patient safety during critical medical events distinct from general patient safety issues, but it is, perhaps, this heightened high-stress, emotional climate that is the most distinct and important part of all. We believe that consideration of this concept is essential when discussing safety improvement in critical medical events.

Keywords: emergency department, pediatrics, patient safety, distress

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