What We Learned About Patient Safety in 2022

There’s still a lot of work to be done to improve patient safety.

“We’re losing an airline full of Americans each day to medical error, but we don’t think about it,” Xavier Becerra, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, recently told a group of senior health system leaders, according to a Business News article.

The Secretary’s comments underscore a serious, rarely uttered truth: Patients are not as safe in hospitals and healthcare facilities as they should be. His comment, which occurred at a November 14 meeting launching the Action Alliance to Advance Patient Safety, also signaled HHS’ intent to refocus efforts to improve patient safety.

As we move into 2023, it’s important to reflect on what we learned about patient safety in 2022: 

1. Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) are still a problem

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just released HAI data from 2021 and the news isn’t good: healthcare-associated infections remain above pre-COVID levels in acute care settings.

The 2021 National and State Healthcare-Associated Infections Progress Report shows

  • A 7% increase in central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSIs) between 2020 and 2021
  • A 5% increase in catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTIs) between 2020 and 2021
  • A 12% increase in ventilator-associated events (VAEs,) or respiratory infections related to the use of mechanical ventilation, between 2020 and 2021
  • A 14% increase in hospital-onset Methicillin resistant staph aureus (MRSA) bacteremia between 2020 and 2021

Note: these are increases over 2020 numbers, which were up over years previous. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, amid significant efforts to reduce HAIs, healthcare-associated infections were trending down. Now, HAIs are again on the upswing. 

As stated in the 2021 report, this data underscores “the need for improvements in patient care practices in U.S. healthcare facilities… more needs to be done to prevent healthcare-associated infections in a variety of settings.”

2. The labor shortage is impacting patient safety

A non-profit organization dedicated to improving the safety and quality of healthcare listed “staffing shortages” at the #1 patient safety concern for 2022. 

The COVID-19 pandemic strained an already stressed workforce and significant numbers of healthcare workers stepped away from the bedside. The total count of nurses in the U.S. decreased by more than 100,000 from 2020 and 2021 – the largest drop in over four decades. Healthcare staffing levels remain below pre-pandemic levels, and there are significantly fewer nurses, physicians, lab techs, and nursing assistants working in hospitals today than in 2019. Demand for healthcare, however, has increased.

Though recent data is still forthcoming, studies have long linked short staffing to increased patient falls, infections, and medication errors. The true extent of patient harm may be unknown, as researchers have noted that “high workloads” can “lead to underreporting and mistaken reporting of infection events,” including HAIs, as clinicians “lack sufficient time to report infection cases.” 

3. We have a long way to go to improve hand hygiene

Appropriate hand hygiene can prevent up to 50% of avoidable infections acquired during healthcare delivery, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The link between hand hygiene, infection, and health outcomes has been known since the mid-1800s, yet hand hygiene performance in healthcare settings is still sub-par. 

According to WHO:

  • 1 in 4 healthcare facilities do not have basic water services
  • 1 in 3 facilities lack hand hygiene facilities at the point of care
  • Levels of hand hygiene compliance in high-income countries – which typically have excellent access to water and hand hygiene supplies – rarely exceed 70%

In many places, hand hygiene rates increased early in the COVID-19 pandemic (even to 100%, in some places), only to decline as the pandemic continued, and workforce shortages manifested. Researchers at a Chicago hospital concluded that “high compliance is possible…yet difficult to sustain.” 

In 2022, researchers continued to explore ways to improve hand hygiene. They identified barriers to hand hygiene practice – including heavy workloads, behavioral patterns, lack of knowledge, improperly designed wards, and lack of equipment – and suggest that healthcare facilities that use automated hand hygiene monitoring systems actively partner with system vendors to achieve greater improvement in hand hygiene performance. 

Hospitals and healthcare facilities that heed the patient safety lessons of 2022 will be better positioned to improve patient safety in 2023 and beyond. The SwipeSense platform and its associated applications can help healthcare facilities efficiently improve hand hygiene, reduce HAIs and ease the labor shortage.

SwipeSense’s Hand Hygiene Monitoring has been proven to help health systems boost hand hygiene rates. Nursing Insights facilitates bedside shift reporting and nurse rounding, two practices that have been proven to decrease patient falls and medication errors. Real-Time Asset Tracking can decrease the amount of time staff spend looking for supplies, and increase their availability for patient care. And Automated Contact Tracing can slow infection outbreaks and decrease HAIs. Get in touch to learn more.