It's all about keeping the standard of care in mind, said presenter TerriAnn Ryan, program director of Mercyhealth Hospital School of Radiography in Rockford, IL. The term is defined as the level and type of care that a reasonably competent and skilled healthcare professional -- with a similar background and in the same medical community -- would have provided under the circumstances.
"We need to remember that it's easy to slip into lackadaisical habits that can lead to decisions that may harm patients," said Ryan, a radiologic technologist. "Consider how long it really takes to do what's necessary to check your protocol, and how staying aware could help you avoid a lawsuit."
Ryan described a case in which the technologist did not confirm that she had the correct contrast agent before giving it to the radiologist to inject. "She just grabbed the bottle and didn't look at it," she said. "She only realized that it was the wrong one when she was putting the syringe into the sharps container."
It doesn't take much to stay proactive and sustain the standard practice of care -- which goes a long way toward protecting a department and its staff from litigation.
"Nobody plans for errors to happen, but without vigilance they can," she said. Ryan outlined four ways to steer clear of lawsuits.
1. Head off mistakes by providing regular in-service training.
Show that your department holds regular trainings on topics such as lifting and moving -- both patients and equipment -- as well as patient care procedures, x-ray image review, and cultural diversity.
2. Make department policies and procedures available -- and ensure that staff knows where they are.
"Make sure your department has written policies that are reviewed at least annually and are available to all staff," Ryan said. "And, of course, make sure everyone knows where these documents are kept."
3. Document everything.
Document what happens with patients. Incident report forms, which are used in quality assurance and risk management protocols, are a helpful way to do this, according to Ryan.
"Let's say a patient falls in the x-ray room, and the technologist gets a physician to look the patient over and decide whether the person can be released or whether he or she needs treatment," she said. "If you don't document all of this, it's as if it never happened."
4. Slow down.
Think about what you're doing, Ryan said. "Ask yourself: What are the consequences of my actions right now?" she said. "It can be easy to slack off on patient and procedure protocols -- after all, most of the time, everything goes fine -- but that's dangerous. Check in with yourself and make sure you're providing quality care."
After all, when it comes to avoiding lawsuits, a proactive stance is the best one to take, Ryan concluded.
"The truth is, the next career you save may be your own," she said.
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