More Known About Why A Donated Kidney Was Trashed

By ThinkReliability Staff

In a previous blog, we wrote about a donated kidney that was accidentally thrown out rather than being transplanted.  We began the root cause analysis investigation with the information that was available, but there were still a lot of open questions.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has released a report on the incident, which provides additional information we can use to update our Cause Map.  We can update all areas of the investigation, including updating any additional goals that were found to be impacted.  In this case, three employees had been placed on administrative leave.  Since the time of the previous blog, four employees have had their careers impacted – one has resigned, one has been fired, one has had a title removed, and another has since returned from paid administrative leave.  Additionally, there is a risk that the hospital may be removed from the Medicare program, another impact to the compliance goal.

The report provides more specific causes, and evidence, regarding the incident.  We know now that the kidney, which was to be transplanted, was instead thrown in a hopper by the circulating nurse.  We can ask “Why” questions to add more detail.  The kidney was thrown in the hopper because the contents of the slush machine were thrown in the hopper and the kidney was in the slush machine.  It still isn’t clear why the kidney was in the slush machine in the donor’s operating room (rather than being transferred immediately to the recipient’s room), but more information regarding the disposal is now available.

The nurse disposed of the hopper because she was unaware that  the slush machine contained the kidney.  The nurse had been on lunch break when the location of the kidney was announced and was not briefed on the status of the operation upon her return.  There was no documentation on where the kidney was located, and the nurse assumed that it was in the recipient’s room.  For reasons that are unclear (as it is usually the job of the technician who is responsible for the machine), the nurse decided to empty the slush machine while the operation was still ongoing.  This appeared to be against procedure, but the procedure had “exceptions” according to staff, and was ineffective in this case.  The technician that was responsible for the slush machine was exerting inadequate control, as the staff members have stated that no one noticed the nurse empting the slush machine.  This also demonstrates inadequate control of the kidney, since there appeared to be no staff person responsible for the kidney itself.

Since the incident, the hospital has developed a procedure for intra-operative hand-off, which includes a briefing requirement for staff members who enter an operating room mid-procedure.  Additionally, clarification has been provided that nothing will leave an operating room until the patient has left, post-procedure.  Although the transplant program is still shutdown pending investigation, a recommendation that might reduce this type of problem in the future would be to ensure that a staff member is designated as responsible for any donated organs from removal to transplant.

To view the updated Cause Map and potential solutions, please click “Download PDF” above

Teen Impersonates a Physician’s Assistant

By Kim Smiley

A teen, who was 17 at the time, was arrested on September 2, 2012 for impersonating a physician’s assistant in a Florida hospital.  The young man worked at a hospital, treating patients and performing duties typical of a physician’s assistant, for about a week before anyone became suspicious of his lack of credentials.  Investigation into the case found that he examined patients, removed an IV and even performed CPR without any medical training.

How could this possibly happen?  A Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis, of this situation can be built to help understand the different causes that contributed to a young man successful impersonating a medical professional.  The first step in building a Cause Map is to determine how the issue impacted the overall organization goals.  In this example, the safety goal is clearly impacted since an unlicensed individual treated patients.  The customer service goal was also impacted because of the negative publicity for the hospital involved in the scandal.

Causes are added to the Cause Map by asking “why” questions.  Why did this happen?  How did a teen end up performing the duties of a physician’s assistant?  Statements by the teen indicated that he was interested in learning more about the profession so he decided to work at the hospital.  He was able to pull this off because he was incorrectly given a physician’s assistant identification badge and nobody initially questioned his credentials because he acted the part well.

The teen worked as a clerk in a doctor’s office near the hospital and when he went to the ID office to get a badge, he was somehow given the wrong one.  His credentials were never checked and personnel at the ID office have stated that this was because the office was very busy at the time.  The teen also never told anybody he had the wrong badge and decided to use it.

The masquerade was also successful for a time because the teen played the role of physician’s assistant well.  He wore scrubs and a stethoscope and used the correct terminology.

This case went to trial in August 2012.  The teen was found guilty on two counts of impersonating a physician assistant and two counts of practicing medicine without a license.  His sentencing is scheduled for November 14 and he faces up to 25 years in prisons.

To view a high level Cause Map, click “Download PDF” above.

Safe Use of Opioids in Inpatient Hospitals

By ThinkReliability Staff

The use of opioids for pain relief in inpatient hospitals can lead to serious potential adverse effects, including respiratory depression and drug interaction.  On August 8, 2012, The Joint Commission published a Sentinel Event Alert: “Safe use of opioids in hospitals”.  The alert contains information about potential causes of the adverse effects possible with the use of opioids as well as solutions that, if implemented by healthcare facilities, can reduce the risk of patient safety impacts from the use of opioids.

We can present the information provided by The Joint Commission in a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis.  We begin with the impacts to the goals.  In this case, we look specifically at two potential impacts to the patient safety goal – the risk of drug-drug interactions and respiratory depression involving opioids.

Drug-drug interactions can result when a patient is taking another drug that interacts with opioids. In this case, the provider prescribing the opioid is unaware of the potential interaction between the drugs prescribed or is unaware of the patient’s drug history, because a complete history is unavailable and a patient is either unable or unwilling to provide a compete list. While drug-drug interactions are possible with any level of opioid, the over-use of opioids for pain relief is a particular concern.  Opioids can be effectively used for pain relief, but over-use can occur when a high dose is needed to manage pain, either due to tolerance from chronic conditions or patient abuse, or obesity.  Studies have shown that obese patients may require more opioids for pain relief than would be suggested by their weight alone.  A patient receiving the wrong dose of opioids (besides being an issue in itself) can also contribute.  Issues have been raised regarding the difficulty in calculating doses with drugs of different potency, especially as patients move from one drug to another.  Additionally, prescribing dose based on weight alone can result in a higher or lower dose than needed as the proper dose of opioids is subject to patient weight, age, sex, and tolerance level.

Issues with prescribing the wrong dose or wrong type of medication can occur when a patient or family member is responsible for the administration.  Problems with medication administered by a provider typically occur around changes of the type or delivery method of the pain killer.  Special care should be taken to recalculate the dose  corresponding to any change in the drug dosage, type or delivery method.  Similar-looking bottles and similar-sounding names are always a potential pitfall in proper drug administration and special care should always be taken in these cases.

Opioids reduce respiratory rate, which can result in respiratory depression.  Respiratory depression can be impacted by other factors, such as a patient who is sleeping (most respiratory depression occurs during typical sleeping hours), or who is already pre-disposed to respiratory depression.  This most commonly occurs with post-surgical patients (who may have residual anesthesia), old or young patients (who may be affected more greatly by the respiratory effects), patients who have abnormal respiratory control due to obstructive sleep apnea or morbid obesity, patients with supplemental oxygen and patients who have a self-administered drug delivery system, such as a fentanyl patch.  Special care and monitoring should be taken with patients who have a higher risk level for respiratory depression.

However, monitoring for respiratory depression is difficult.  Visually assessing respiratory depression (especially while a patient is sleeping or on supplemental oxygen) is extremely difficult.  Using pulse oximetry can result in misleading values (including normal values while a patient is suffering from respiratory depression) and high false alarms.  Because respiratory depression occurs gradually, intermittent monitoring may not be sufficient to pick up on a patient’s decline.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for reducing respiratory depression.  Rather, an individualized plan based on patient pain requirements and risk factors is shown to be the recommended way to reduce the risk of respiratory depression and ensure proper pain control for patients.

To view the Cause Map and recommended solutions, please click “Download PDF” above.  Or learn more from The Joint Commission Sentinel Event Alert.

Working to Eradicate A Painful Parasite

By Kim Smiley

The lifecycle of the Guinea worm is the stuff of nightmares.  This parasite is ingested by a host as larvae, mate and mature inside the host and then the adult female painfully emerges to lay her eggs. The adult female is between two to three feet long and the thickness of a spaghetti noodle.  The only way to get rid of the parasite is to wrap it around a stick and slowly pull it out, a process that takes several weeks or even months.

Individuals who are infected by this parasite can suffer for months, making it difficult to work and feed their families.  There is no immunity to Guinea worms so it’s possible for people to suffer year after year if they continue to ingest the larvae of the Guinea worms.  There is also no drug to treat Guinea worm disease and there is no vaccine that prevents infections.

But there is hope in the fight against this excruciating disease.  The number of cases of Guinea worm disease has decreased dramatically.  In 1986 there were an estimated 3.5 million cases of Guinea worm disease spread across 21 countries in Asia and Africa.  In 2011, there were only 1,058 reported cases of Guinea worm disease in four African countries.

How was this possible?  The first step in answering that question is to understand more about the disease.  The problem of Guinea worm disease can be illustrated by building a Cause Map, an intuitive root cause analysis format.  By asking “Why” questions, causes can be added to the Cause Map and the problem can be analyzed.    Why are people getting the disease?  People are drinking water that is contaminated with copepods, also called water fleas, which are infested with larvae of Guinea worms.  There is also typically no other supply of safe drinking water and the water wasn’t treated or filtered prior to consumption.

Painful blisters form when the female Guinea worm emerges from the body and people put their sores into the same water used for drinking (because it is usually the only water available) to help relieve the burning sensation.   The female Guinea worm then releases hundreds of thousands of guinea worm larvae once she senses water.  Guinea worm larvae is eaten by the water fleas.  The infected water fleas are small and ingested along with the water, which restarts the whole process.

This process had been going on for thousands of years, affecting millions and millions of people.  Its remains have even been found in Egyptian mummies.  But simple changes have nearly eliminated the disease.  In fact, Guinea worm disease is predicted to be the first human disease ever eradicated without a vaccine and only human disease to be eradicated other than small-pox.

Relatively simple changes have made all the difference in the world.  People were educated about how to prevent the disease.  Millions of straws with filters were handed out to villagers to strain out the infected water fleas and prevent the parasite from entering the body.  Efforts were also made to treat water with larvicide and provide access to uncontaminated drinking water.

Without new hosts, the Guinea worm larvae died.  Once the lifecycle was broken, the disease disappeared from many regions.  There are now only four countries that reported any cases of the disease last year, the vast number being in war torn South Sudan where public health efforts have been difficult to sustain.

Click on “Download PDF” above to view a high level Cause Map of this issue