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Understaffing at hospitals can lead to tragedy

You know from your own work experience that when the office is understaffed, tasks get overlooked and mistakes get made. In many industries this might result in a call to a client to patch things up or perhaps an employee misses out on a bonus. But when these kinds of mistakes happen in a hospital, a patient can die.

A few years ago, JAMA Internal Medicine published a study that suggested that almost 36 percent of hospitals across the country have an unsafe patient load more than one time per week. When a hospital does not have the staff present to handle higher loads of patients, there are often instances of poor communication, errors in treatment and medications, unnecessary testing, and unorganized patient transitions between staff. These kinds of problems can easily lead to further medical complications and even death.

What the statistics say

Other researchers conducted an online survey to find out the association between patient safety and the workload of the attending physicians after another study concluded the negative effects of understaffing in long-term care facilities. Of the hospitals that participated, 40 percent reported that patient load climbed above safe levels about one time per month while 36 percent reported that their levels went above a safe limit more than one time per week.

Some of the consequences that occurred due to unsafe workloads included failure to properly discuss treatment options or answer patient questions, inadequate patient assessments, and medication and treatment errors. In almost ten percent of cases, patients had to move to a higher level of care and in 6 percent, either physicians or others filed incident reports.

The studies concluded that hospitals need to spend more time examining the workloads of their attending physicians and reviewing their standards for a safe patient load. In addition, the research also recommends that hospitals work on a strategy to keep patient loads at a more manageable level and put a plan in place to handle those times when levels become too high for the scheduled staff to effectively care for patients.

If you or loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice or negligence due to understaffing at a Pittsburgh area hospital, it is important to remember that you have options. You may be able to take legal action for any losses or damages that resulted due to medical malpractice.

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