What the pandemic taught me about patient safety

March 16, 2021 |  Patient Engagement, Patient Safety, Health IT, Coronavirus


Last year, we celebrated Patient Safety Awareness Week (PSAW) the week before the world shut down and life as we knew it came to a halt. So I would be remiss to discuss this year’s observance without reflecting on the impact of COVID-19. The theme for 2021’s PSAW is “Together we are better, stronger, safer.” After all of the uncertainty of 2020, have we lived up to that mantra?

While patient safety is always top of mind for providers, the pandemic brought newfound challenges that drastically impacted patient care. Every day, we would ask ourselves:

  • How can I connect with my patients while hidden beneath layers of personal protective equipment (PPE)?
  • Is the data in my patients’ medical records accurate, despite not seeing them for routine appointments?
  • If my patients have to go to the ER, will they get proper care based on their current record?
  • What do I do when a patient requires daily blood pressure medication but is too fearful to come in for a blood pressure check? Should I refill someone’s medication without having up-to-date vitals?

The truth of the matter is, we don’t have guidelines for how to handle patient care in a COVID or post-COVID world. All we can do is adapt. Throughout 2020, we had to be very flexible about how — and where — care was delivered. Providers increasingly turned to episodic care via telehealth visits as opposed to the preventative care of the past. And now, in 2021, we’re starting to see our schedules overwhelmed with those routine visits that were missed in the previous year. Chart review as part of pre-visit planning activities is proving to be incredibly important to resuming health maintenance activities, including cancer prevention screenings.

Virtual Visits have been a saving grace this year. The ability to swiftly connect with and care for patients through a screen have allowed us to effectively navigate this trying time — and without the mask. The time I’ve lost in efficiency putting on PPE I’ve gained back in expediting safer care delivery. New avenues for patient engagement beyond traditional face-to-face interactions have surfaced with the help of patient portals, bringing hope to healthcare. 

Today, we are seeing healthcare organizations continuing to embrace necessary changes through technology. They have instituted temperature checks/questionnaires upon arrival, thinned out waiting rooms, implemented contactless check-in, and undertaken other initiatives to protect not only themselves, but also their patient populations. These measures are important, but equally important for us going forward is to come together by embracing a community-oriented mindset. 

And that’s at the heart of patient safety — healthcare providers looking out for patients; patients looking out for one another; and everyone around the globe making thoughtful decisions, understanding the impact of their actions, and living with everyone’s best interests at heart. Together, I’m confident we will survive this crisis better, stronger, and safer. 

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Written by Bryan Bagdasian, MD, MMM, Primary Care and Hospitalist Medicine, Steward Health Care

Bryan Bagdasian MD, MMM joined MEDITECH in July 2013 as a physician informaticist specializing in standard content and clinical decision support. Dr. Bagdasian supports the implementation of MEDITECH's Expanse platform through our READY and CLPP programs. He is also an advocate for EHR safety and serves on MEDITECH's Patient Safety Review Board. With more than 25 years of clinical experience, Dr. Bagdasian was among the select physicians named to Castle Connolly's 2017 Top Doctors list. His professional memberships include the American Association for Physician Leadership, American Medical Association, Massachusetts Medical Society, Society for Perioperative Assessment and Quality Improvement, and American Telemedicine Association.
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