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Special Issue of Point of Care Highlights Patient Safety and Avoiding Medical Errors

Rapidly Evolving Technology Requires Careful Attention to Patient Safety and Quality Control

Many medical tests that once required sending samples to a laboratory and waiting for results can now be rapidly performed at the patient's bedside.  As these point-of-care testing (POCT) technologies are increasingly integrated into patient care, careful attention is needed to protect patient safety and avoid medical errors, according to this month's special issue of  Point of Care: The Journal of Near-Patient Testing & TechnologyThe journal is published by  Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of  Wolters Kluwer Health.

Consisting of invited editorials, research studies, and case reports, the special issue of  Point of Care provides a broad-ranging overview of how professionals are working to ensure the safe use of POCT.  "While the theme is patient safety, each article is different and the authors were not constrained to one format or question, but free to express their concerns and perceptions around the theme of patient safety and medical errors," according to an introductory article by James H. Nichols, PhD, professor of pathology at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston and medical director of clinical chemistry for Baystate Health in Springfield, Mass.

As POCT Becomes Routine, Special Attention Needed to Patient Safety
Point-of-care tests—allowing common lab results to be rapidly obtained at or near the bedside or in the doctor's office—are becoming increasingly sophisticated and widely used.  The special issue presents contributions from laboratory managers, "POC coordinators," and other professionals on the front lines who are working to ensure that POCT is safely integrated into clinical care.

Several articles describe new technical advances in POCT, including built-in quality controls and safeguards to avoid potential sources of error.  Although there are currently few formal guidelines, new technical standards are being developed and POCT devices are drawing increased scrutiny from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The special issue addresses a wide range of key issues in the safe use of POCT, including pitfalls with the potential to lead to medical errors.   Contributions highlight the need for systematic approaches to patient safety, including patient identification, timely results, system alerts, and operator training.

Several articles provide informative examples of errors that have arisen with widespread implementation of POCT technology.  For example, at one hospital unit, problems arose when a new test was introduced that used different values for abnormal results than the previously used test.

In another case, a busy technician was omitting routine control checks on POCT equipment—thus generating reports suggesting a system malfunction.  Several of the articles highlight the importance of following quality control steps.  Some POCT units include built-in quality checks, in some cases run before each patient sample is tested.

And yet, the potential for errors persists.  One article finds nearly a two percent rate of inaccurate patient identification on a routine point-of-care blood test.  Another highlights the potential for "errors of omission" when a health care professional isn't available to make necessary care decisions in case of abnormality POCT results.

In his editorial, Dr. Nichols calls for a risk management perspective on POCT.  Since these tests are more prone to certain types of errors than traditional medical tests, he emphasizes the need for special attention to quality control, operator training, and other steps to ensure that point-of-care tests are used appropriately, with a focus on safeguarding patient safety.

The editors of  Point of Care hope their special issue will provide a valuable and thought-provoking resource for professionals working to realize the benefits of POCT while protecting patient safety.  Dr. Nichols writes, "The collection is a testament to the many problems and risks that are managed by POCT programs each day, as well as the ingenious processes that manufacturers are developing to control risk."

About  Point of Care
Point of Care: The Journal of Near-Patient Testing & Technology is a vital resource for directors and managers of large and small hospital pathology labs, blood centers, home health-care agencies, doctors' offices, and other healthcare facilities. Each issue provides peer-reviewed original research articles, along with concepts, technologies and trends. Topics include test accuracy, turnaround time, data management, quality control, regulatory compliance, and cost-effectiveness of testing.

About Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (LWW) is a leading international publisher for healthcare professionals and students with nearly 300 periodicals and 1,500 books in more than 100 disciplines publishing under the  LWW brand, as well as content-based sites and online corporate and customer services.

LWW is part of  Wolters Kluwer Health, a leading global provider of information, business intelligence and point-of-care solutions for the healthcare industry. Wolters Kluwer Health is part of  Wolters Kluwer, a market-leading global information services company with 2010 annual revenues of €3.6 billion ($4.7 billion).