Interpretation of Electronic Fetal Heart Rate Monitoring

By ThinkReliability Staff

Electronic fetal heart rate monitoring (EFM) is used to determine fetal distress.  When fetal distress is indicated, intervention and/or early delivery are generally performed.  Because of this, EFM is performed frequently, even in low risk births.  However, EFM has a high rate of false positives, resulting in unnecessary surgical intervention, which can impact both patient safety and an organization’s goals, especially as the rate of cesarean sections continue to increase.  One of the causes for these high rates of false positives is the variable and inconsistent interpretation of EFM data.  This is in itself an impact to the patient services goal.

This produces a highly simplified version of the Cause Map, but leads to a cause that has significant opportunity to provide improved results.  Specifically, the cause of “variable and inconsistent interpretation” suggests that guidance for more consistent interpretation may aid in reducing unnecessary surgical intervention due to false positives from EFM.

With guidance provided from the American Family Physician, we can create a process map to aid in the use of EFM.  A process map shows the steps and decision trees involved in a process, attempting to guide practitioners towards accepted best practices.

EFM is used continuously for high risk patients and intermittently for low risk patients  unless abnormalities occur.  There are three types of patterns produced by EFM: reassuring, non-reassuring, and ominous.  (Definitions for these patterns, as well as high risk patients are also from the American Family Physician).  Reassuring patterns generally are found to correlate with fetal health, and indicate that the delivery can continue.  Ominous patterns should lead to evaluation for immediate delivery.  Non-reassuring patterns are found between the two – and so lead to the most difficulty in interpretation.  Specific steps are outlined to be taken in the case of non-reassuring patterns which attempt to normalize the pattern.  Additionally, specific tests are recommended to attempt to determine the cause.  If the cause can be determined and corrected, continuous monitoring should accompany an attempt to continue the delivery.

If the pattern is not normalized, evaluation for immediate delivery should occur.  There is no decision tree at this stage  because the decision on whether (and how quickly) to perform delivery must be determined based on the patient’s specific state, based on the knowledge of the practitioner.  Although some steps remain subjective, attempting to fit those that are not into a process map can improve the odds for everyone.

Can Safety be Taken Too Far?

By Kim Smiley

Sometimes, what seems like a very simple, easy solution turns out to be much more complicated.  Unless a system is very well understood, implementing a solution can have unintended consequences.  Take for example, the changes made to playgrounds over the past couple of decades.  There was concern that children were being injured while playing, especially from falls from high playground equipment.  Removing any playground equipment that was deemed dangerous seemed like an obvious solution to this problem.

Gone are the metal merry-go-rounds and the ten feet tall monkey bars that many of us remember from our youth.  Modern playgrounds are populated by lower, enclosed platforms and soft ground coverings to prevent injuries and protect against lawsuits.

But are modern playgrounds better? According to a recent New York Times article , the answer isn’t the slam dunk you might expect.  There is mixed evidence about whether modern playgrounds actually reduce the number of injuries because children tend to take more risks on “safer” playgrounds.  There is also evidence that the value of playgrounds in childhood development might have been diminished by the increased focus on safety.

A recent paper by Norwegian scientists discusses the value of allowing children to face fears through “risky” play.  The concern is that children are developing more anxieties because they are losing the opportunity to face their fears by tackling challenging playground equipment. Part of the problem is also that safer playgrounds tend to be more boring which discourages children from playing at all.

There are a number of researchers asking whether the potential negative emotional impact of safer playgrounds outweigh the risk from physical injuries associated with taller, riskier playground equipment.  This is a hard question to answer because while it’s relatively easy to measure the number of bones broken on playgrounds, it’s very difficult to measure the intangible benefits of challenging playgrounds.

So can playgrounds be too safe?  It’s not clear that we have a definitive answer to that question, but what is clear is that the problem of playground safety is more complicated than originally assumed.  A Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis, can be built in cases like this to help clarify all known information.  Cause Maps are a very versatile format.  They can be created to incorporated any level of detail needed and can be added to as more information becomes available or as unexpected complications pop up.  To view a high level Cause Map of this problem, please click on “Download PDF” above.

The Price of Beauty?

By Kim Smiley

In recent years, keratin-based hair products have become increasingly popular.  They smooth hair and many rave over their effective de-frizzing abilities.  These products are expensive, but are consumers paying an even higher price for beautiful hair?

Health concerns about the use of keratin-based hair products have been reported multiple times  over the past several years. The main issue is the formaldehyde contained in many of the products.  Formaldehyde can irritate the eyes and nose, cause skin rashes, and cause asthma-like breathing problems. Formaldehyde is also considered a carcinogen by many organizations.

These hair products contain formaldehyde because it makes the product more effective and longer lasting, but there may be a high health cost, especially to the stylists who perform the procedure.

This issue can be analyzed by building a visual root cause analysis called a Cause Map.  Click on “Download PDF” above to view a high level Cause Map for this issue.

During the root cause analysis, it became clear that one of the causes that contributed to this issue is that many people are unaware of the potential health risk.  This in turn is caused by mislabeling of the products and a lack of safety instructions on the packaging.  Testing by the Oregon OSHA found that many keratin-based hair products labeled as “formaldehyde free” in fact contained significant levels of formaldehyde.  Another cause to consider is that these hair products are considered cosmetics and cosmetics do not require pre-approval by the FDA prior to sale, resulting in minimal government oversight of the product.

OSHA and the FDA  are both investigating the products to determine their safety, but as of right now it is perfectly legal to sell and use keratin-based products containing formaldehyde in the US.  But if you’re interested in using these products, there are several facts you should know to help keep you as safe as possible.  When reading a package, it’s good to know that formaldehyde can be listed in multiple ways, including methylene glycol, formalin, methylene oxide, paraform, formic aldehyde, methanal, oxomethane, oxymethylene, or CAS Number 50-00-0.   It’s also safer to perform this procedure in a well-ventilated area or outside.  Additionally, wearing a mask will prevent inhaling the formaldehyde and some salons now provide them to consumers and stylists to use while the keratin hair products are applied.  You should also carefully wash your hands after handling any product that contains formaldehyde.

Infant Death Due to Sodium Chloride Overdose

By ThinkReliability Staff

On October 15, 2010, a 40-day old prematurely born infant died from a sodium chloride overdose at an Illinois hospital.  Because a computerized system was involved, this case has been noted as a harbinger for possible issues resulting from the use of computerized systems.  To learn more about what happened, we can look at the case in a visual root cause analysis, or Cause Map, to examine all the causes.

First we begin with the impact to the goals.  The infant’s death was an impact to the patient safety goal.  A death resulting from a medication error is a “never event“, which is an impact to the compliance goals.  There is a related wrongful death lawsuit, which is an impact to the organization’s goals.  The overdose of sodium chloride delivered to the patient is an impact to the patient services goal.

We begin the analysis with the impacts to the goals and ask why questions to fill out the Cause Map.  The infant death was caused by the sodium chloride overdose, which occurred when the infant received more than 60 times the dosage ordered by the doctor intravenously.   The infant was receiving sodium chloride intravenously to provide nutrition, as he had been born prematurely.  Although a blood test indicated abnormally high levels of sodium, it has been reported that the lab technician assumed they were inaccurate, resulting in the infant not receiving immediate care for the overdose.

When a process – in this case, the medication delivery process – does not work correctly (such as occurs when an overdose is given), it means that the checks at every level of the process were ineffective.  The final check at the patient’s bedside was ineffective because the label on the IV bag did not match the actual contents.  It’s unclear how that occurred.  The error was made at the pharmacy, when a pharmacy technician entered an incorrect number into the compounding system.  Normally entering a too-high dose would trigger an alert with an automated system, but the alerts were turned off.  Part of the reason for the error was that the pharmacy technician had to manually enter the prescription in the first place.   A  doctor enters a prescription via the automated dispensing system.  However, the automated dispensing system, and the computerized compounding system did not communicate with each other, so for orders that required compounding, a technician had to transfer the order from one system to the other, manually.

A computerized system is no better if it’s not used properly.  If parts of the system don’t communicate with each other, and safety checks are turned of, a computerized system may actually be less safe, especially if people expect the automatic checks are being performed, and so don’t perform any of their own.  Computerized systems have a lot to offer – namely, reducing the number of medication errors relating to illegible handwriting or providing automatic checks for drug interactions.  But these systems are not fail-safe and checks used to ensure that patients