Work to be done to improve patient safety in paediatrics

We go to great lengths to protect our children, doing our best to keep them safe from harm.

Unfortunately, more than nine per cent of children admitted to acute care hospitals in Canada experience harm caused by healthcare system failures which often lead to:  prolonged hospital stay or readmission, disability and death. This data is new and unique, and represents the results of the recently completed Canadian Paediatric Adverse Events Study, the first national study of its kind conducted to examine the problem of paediatric patient safety.

The results show that the priority in academic hospitals is on surgical and intensive care, and in community hospitals, the evidence suggests that the focus is often emergency and obstetrical care. The study also found that more resources should be channeled into investigating diagnostic adverse events.

As I’ve indicated in past columns, few things can shatter the notion of invincibility like the healthcare system – especially when mistakes are made and permanent harm is done. Children cannot advocate for their own safe care, and so the responsibility rests with care providers and decision makers to be cognizant of the various hazards in paediatric healthcare in order to focus attention and channel resources toward the necessary system improvements. They have the power to covert system failures into learning opportunities.

Lead researcher Dr. Anne Matlow is absolutely correct is her assessment that this study should serve as a strong wake-up call for all hospitals taking care of children and that all hospitals recognize that all efforts must be made to deliver safe medical care to children.

Historically, paediatric patient safety at a national level has received little attention around the globe. Consequently, except for decision makers and senior administrators in the paediatric arenas, hazards in paediatric care and the need for directed resources and action have not been at the forefront of the minds of general healthcare policy and decision makers. Demonstration of the burden of harm experienced by children in the acute care setting, and in particular demonstrating that the incidence may be higher than in adults should be a call to action to protect our children, among the most vulnerable members of our society as well as its future.

This is what we hope this study will accomplish. This is what the study needs to accomplish.

This study demonstrates the urgent need to improve the safety and quality of paediatric care in Canada and we call on researchers and hospital safety administrators to use this information to aid surveillance of patient safety incidents and ultimately work towards the goal of improving the safety of children hospitalized on Canada.

The Canadian Paediatric Adverse Events Study was release in March 2013 and was funded in part by the Canadian Patient Safety Institute (CPSI), The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), and other academic paediatric centres across the country. Click here to access the full study