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Hidden Dangers: With Better Technology, New Hospital Risks

Generally, hospital patients are probably safer now than they were 100 years ago. As technological improvements found their way into the world of healthcare, treatment and care got better and more reliable as well.

But, as the Emergency Care Research Institute (ECRI) reports in its annual study, technology brings some new dangers as well. Its annual list summarizes the ten biggest hospital care problems that involve technology - these issues often result from potentially catastrophic hospital errors.

1. Alarm overload: Modern hospitals rely on numerous alarms and warnings. Some estimates say that the average caregiver hears hundreds of alarms on any given day - with this many individual notifications, it becomes easy for nurses and doctors to miss important warnings.

2. IV medication input errors: Automated pumps help deliver steady medications through IV tubes. But when caregivers type the wrong information into the pumps, dangerous medication errors can result.

3. CT scans and radiation: CT devices have helped many patients detect dangerous but invisible conditions. However, repeated exposure to CT scans can result in dangerous levels of radiation. CT scans cause 29,000 cases of cancer every year.

4. Electronic records mistakes: Electronic records allow hospitals to keep all caregivers in the loop more efficiently. Patients need to be aware of possible entry errors and software glitches - either could contribute to a caregiver receiving misinformation.

5. Interoperability failures: Similarly, computer systems that coordinate automated care can break down or succumb to bugs unexpectedly.

6. IV air bubbles and embolisms: New devices help IVs filter out air bubbles - but patients should not ignore warning signs because bubbles still slip through in many cases.

7. Adult devices and children: Hospitals need to be very careful when using devices in the pediatric context. If medical equipment is not calibrated for use on a child patient, the results can be dangerous.

8. Sterilization complications: Infections have always posed a big risk for patient health. While the same infections exist in a more technological era, some pieces of equipment are harder to clean and ECRI worries that not all hospitals do enough to sterilize some instruments.

9. Phone-related distractions: When caregivers use cell phones to stay in touch with their personal lives while on the job, they can easily make deadly treatment mistakes.

10. Surgical fires: Oxygen tubes make surgeries easier in many cases. If tubes leak however, the concentrated oxygen can start fires near patients' heads and faces.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, "Top ten hospital hazards," Nov. 5, 2012

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