Print “PDF version

What’s New in the Patient Safety World

September 2020


·       AORN on Distractions and Interruptions

·       Care Processes and the Weekend Effect

·       More on Workarounds

·       Daylight Savings Time Impacts Patient Safety?




AORN on Distractions and Interruptions



AORN has issued a position statement on “Managing Distractions and Noise During Perioperative Patient Care” (AORN 2020). It begins with 4 beliefs:


A major focus is on the use of personal electronic devices (eg, mobile phones, tablets, laptop computers). Ring tones and alarms from personal electronic devices contribute to distraction. And “undisciplined use of cellular devices in the OR by any member of the perioperative team may be distracting and may affect patient care”, and that includes activities such as texting on smartphones.


Excessive noise may also interfere with the ability to communicate effectively, make it difficult to understand content, and contribute to miscommunication and lead to errors.


They note that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that the level of continuous background noise in hospitals not exceed 45 decibels (dB) during the day, and WHO (World Health Organization) recommends that environmental noise levels not exceed 30 dB. Moreover, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) permissible exposure limit (PEL) for noise is 90 dBA for all workers for an 8‐hour day. Noise levels in hospitals often exceed such recommendations. Specialties in which powered surgical tools and impact‐producing equipment are used demonstrated higher noise levels than other specialties.


A noisy environment may both be associated with physical and psychological symptoms in healthcare workers and serve as a distraction that interrupts patient care and potentially increases the risk for error. They cite other studies showing causes of distractions and interruptions such as team members entering and leaving the room, equipment alarms, parallel conversations, and telephones or pagers. They also note other studies that showed increases in noise (eg, talking during the closing phase of a surgical procedure) may be associated with increases in surgical site infections.


The AORN position statement then goes on to describe a litany of activities that commonly cause distractions and interruptions in healthcare settings, including patient care activities, behavioral activities, electronic activities, technology, and mechanical/environmental factors,


It then goes on to discuss importance of the sterile cockpit concept, in which nonessential conversation and activities do not occur during critical phases of a surgical procedures, such as time‐out periods, critical dissections, surgical counts, medication preparation and administration, confirming and opening of implants, induction and emergence from anesthesia, and care and handling of specimens. Surgical team members should give their full attention to performing their responsibilities during critical phases. It does acknowledge that critical phases may occur at different times for different team members.


The position statement comes with over 60 references and also has links to useful resources from other organizations.



Prior Patient Safety Tips of the Week dealing with interruptions and distractions:

·       January 28, 2020         Dang Those Cell Phones!







AORN. (Association of periOperative Registered Nurses). AORN Position Statement on Managing Distractions and Noise During Perioperative Patient Care. AORN Journal 2020; 111(6): 675-680





Print “September 2020 AORN on Distractions and Interruptions







Care Processes and the Weekend Effect



We’ve done multiple columns on “the weekend effect” and “the after-hours effect”, in which patient outcomes tend to be worse than for those during “normal” daytime hours (see list of columns below).


But there has been surprisingly little actual documentation of which specific care processes are deficient on those weekends. Liu and colleagues (Liu 2020) recently analyzed data from the American College of Surgeons’ NSQIP database on over 27,000 patients in 362 hospitals with ERAS (Enhanced Recovery After Surgery) programs for elective colorectal surgery (see our February 11, 2020 Patient Safety Tip of the Week “ERAS Rocks!”), The researchers assessed adherence to 9 postoperative process measures, comparing between patients undergoing surgery on Monday through Wednesday compared with Friday while risk-adjusting for procedure type and surgical complexity.


Those who underwent surgery on Friday, compared with Monday through Wednesday, had decreased adherence to mobilization on postoperative day one (POD#1), mobilization on POD#2, and Foley catheter removal by POD#1.


Several hospital-level factors were associated with lower weekend adherence rates: having more hospital beds, fewer nurses per bed, and fewer part-time unit staff per bed. Nonteaching hospitals were associated with lower weekend adherence rates but had better adherence rates overall compared with teaching hospitals. Hospitals with fewer nurses per bed led to a decreased probability of Foley catheter removal and mobilization on POD#1 on the weekend. (Note that having fewer nurses was also associated with decreased adherence to mobilization on POD#1 even during the weekday when compared with better-staffed hospitals).


The authors conclude that to achieve optimal outcomes, protocol adherence is important and requires appropriately resourced patient care teams. They note that the reduced adherence to mobilization and Foley catheter removal noted during the weekend was associated with certain organizational and unit-based factors including nurse and unit staffing ratios. These are potential targets to improve surgical quality to achieve desirable patient care.


We summarized many of our own thoughts on the “weekend effect” in our June 2016 What's New in the Patient Safety World column “Weekend Effect Challenged”. Our own opinion is that the “weekend effect” and “after-hours effect” are real phenomena and that the causes are multifactorial, including both patient-based and system-based contributing factors. Yes, patients admitted at these times are likely sicker and have a higher severity of illness and therefore are likely to have a higher mortality rate. However, as we’ve pointed out over and over, hospitals do not provide the same levels of service 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Staffing patterns, in terms of volume and even more so in terms of experience, are the most obvious difference but there are many others as well. Many diagnostic tests are not as readily available during these times. On-site physician availability may be different and cross-coverage by physicians who lack detailed knowledge about individual patients is common. You also see more verbal orders, which of course are error-prone, at night and on weekends. But the most significant difference is nurse workload on weekends. We’ve described the tremendous increase in nurse responsibilities on weekends due to lack of other staff (no clerical staff, delayed imaging, physicians not on site) that add additional responsibilities to their jobs. Our December 15, 2009 Patient Safety Tip of the Week “The Weekend Effect” discussed how adding non-clinical administrative tasks to already overburdened nursing staff on weekends may be detrimental to patient care. Just do rounds on one of your med/surg floors or ICU’s on a weekend. You’ll see nurses answering phones all day long, causing interruptions in some attention-critical nursing activities. Calls from radiology and the lab that might go directly to physicians now often go first to the nurse on the floor, who then has to try to track down the physician. They end up filing lab and radiology reports or faxing medication orders down to pharmacy, activities often done by clerical staff during daytime hours. Even in those facilities that have CPOE, nurses off-hours often end up entering those orders into the computer because the physicians are off-site and are phoning in verbal orders. You’ll also see nurses giving directions to the increased numbers of visitors typically seen on weekends. They may even end up doing some housekeeping chores and delivering food trays. All of these interruptions and distractions obviously interfere with nurses’ ability to attend to their clinically important tasks (see our Patient Safety Tips of the Week for August 25, 2009 “Interruptions, Distractions, Inattention…Oops!” and May 4, 2010 “More on the Impact of Interruptions”). That is why we think that simply addressing nurse:patient staffing ratios without addressing nurse workload issues may be short-sighted.


All you have to do is spend some time in your hospital on weekends and you’ll readily see that things are different on weekends.



Some of our previous columns on the “weekend effect:

·       February 26, 2008     Nightmares….The Hospital at Night

·       December 15, 2009   The Weekend Effect

·       July 20, 2010             More on the Weekend Effect/After-Hours Effect

·       October 2008            Hospital at Night Project

·       September 2009        After-Hours Surgery – Is There a Downside?

·       December 21, 2010   More Bad News About Off-Hours Care

·       June 2011                  Another Study on Dangers of Weekend Admissions

·       September 2011        Add COPD to Perilous Weekends

·       August 2012              More on the Weekend Effect

·       June 2013                  Oh No! Not Fridays Too!

·       November 2013        The Weekend Effect: Not One Simple Answer

·       August 2014              The Weekend Effect in Pediatric Surgery

·       October 2014            What Time of Day Do You Want Your Surgery?

·       December 2014         Another Procedure to Avoid Late in the Day or on Weekends

·       January 2015             Emergency Surgery Also Very Costly

·       May 2015                  HAC’s and the Weekend Effect

·       August 2015              More Stats on the Weekend Effect

·       September 2015        Surgery Previous Night Does Not Impact Attending Surgeon Next Day

·       February 23, 2016     Weekend Effect Solutions?

·       June 2016                  Weekend Effect Challenged

·       October 4, 2016        More on After-Hours Surgery

·       July 25, 2017             Can We Influence the “Weekend Effect”?

·       August 15, 2017        Delayed Emergency Surgery and Mortality Risk






Liu JY, Merkow RP, Cohen ME, et al. Association of Weekend Effect With Recovery After Surgery. JAMA Surg 2020; Published online August 26, 2020




Print “September 2020 Care Processes and the Weekend Effect






More on Workarounds



Workarounds, or similar intentional violations of a rule or procedure, are very common in healthcare (see our Septemeber 4, 2007 Patient Safety Tip of the Week “Workarounds as a Safety Issue). They are usually performed with the best of intentions and are usually an indication of a flawed or poorly designed underlying process or system. In fact, any time you see a workaround being performed, you need to look for the root causes that led to the need for a workaround.


In our June 17, 2008 Patient Safety Tip of the Week “Technology Workarounds Defeat Safety Intent” we described an incident we witnessed as we were doing our first electronic medical record implementation. A nurse was using a just-implemented barcoding system to perform medication administration. The bar code on one unit-dose medication would not scan properly because of a crinkle in the barcode. The nurse was to then manually input the barcode from the package onto the system computer. However, the print on the barcode was too small for her to read. She then prepared to cut and paste the medication number from the computer screen into the manual entry input box. That, of course, would have bypassed the whole patient safety concept of a barcoding system, which is to verify that the medication being given is the same as the one on the computer screen. Simply typing in those same numbers seen on the computer screen would have also bypassed the safety mechanism involved in barcoding. While we intercepted this instance to prevent a potential error, there are undoubtedly many similar workarounds being used with barcoding systems.


We wondered how often this type of barcoding system workaround occurred and whether there were other similar workarounds we needed to watch out for. Fortunately, Ross Koppel (Koppel 2008) and his colleagues had just published an article identifying the multiple types of workarounds in barcode systems and their underlying causes. They identified 15 types of workarounds and 31 types of causes for the workarounds in barcoding medication administration systems.


It’s been over 4 years since we did our last column on workarounds. But in the last few weeks there have been two good studies on workarounds.


Researchers in the Netherlands performed a prospective observational study of nurses using barcode techniques to administer medication to inpatients (van der Veen 2020). Of almost 6000 medication administrations they observed, 62.7% involved one or more workarounds. They classified workarounds as:



(such as not scanning at all)



Patient scanning-related

(such as no barcode wristband on the patient)



Medication scanning-related

(such as scanning before actual administration of medication, scanning medication for more than one patient at a time, and ignoring computer or scanner alerts)




Potential risk factors associated with workarounds were the day of the week, the timing of the medication administration, the route of administration, the administration of medication from irregularly used classes and the patient–nurse ratio. Though they had no formal measure of nurse workload, the strongest association with workarounds was having the patient:nurse ratio equal to or greater than 6:1 compared to 5:1 or less (adjusted OR 5.61). Other factors, such as the percentage of barcoded medication and work experience, were not associated with workarounds.


We found interesting the association of the nonoral route of administration with workarounds. They provided several examples. Certain routes of administration, such as dermal or inhalation, are often left to the patient for self-administration, and nurses may forget to scan such medication. Another example is certain parenteral medications that need special handling to make it ready to administer (eg. an original vial with infusion powder may contain a barcode, but the infusion bag with the added drug may not be barcoded).


Workarounds were also associated with the time of the medication round and particular days. They were more likely on busy weekdays versus the relatively quiet Sunday (Wow, so much for our “weekend effect)!). Workarounds were also more likely on the rounds scheduled during the afternoon and evening compared to the morning. The authors attributed this to likely saving time during busier parts of the day.


The authors state “In particular, nurse workload and the patient:nurse ratio could be the focus for improvement measures as these are the most clearly modifiable factors identified in this study.” They note their findings emphasize the need to review the patient:nurse ratio, work schedules and medication-related workload per day of the week and per shift to ensure the safe use of the system. They stress the importance of a positive work environment and adequate balance between patients and available nursing care. Good timing, given our September 1, 2020 Patient Safety Tip of the Week “NY State and Nurse Staffing Issues”.


The second study was a review of the published literature on nurses’ use of workarounds related to the electronic health record (Fraczkowski 2020). A total of 33 articles met their inclusion criteria. The authors acknowledge that researchers often classify workarounds differently, but that they generally fit 1 of 3 broad categories: omission of process steps, steps performed out of sequence, and unauthorized process steps. Probable causes included technology, task, organizational, patient, environmental, and usability factors. They note that, compared to research done in acute care settings, there is a dearth of research on workarounds in the ambulatory setting. They conclude that, despite decades of electronic health record development, poor usability remains a key concern for nurses and other members of care team.


Workarounds can be unique, simple or complex, and often extremely innovative. But remember: when you see a workaround, there is always an underlying root cause or causes that led someone to use that workaround. When we do Patient Safety Walk Rounds, one question we often ask nurses or other healthcare workers is “Are there any workarounds you sometimes do?”. It’s important you let them know ahead of time that this question is asked in a nonpunitive manner and is being asked in order to identify barriers or impediments to care and workflow. Importantly, you need to be prepared to address whatever root cause they reveal in their answers!



Some of our prior columns related to workarounds:


September 4, 2007      Workarounds as a Safety Issue

May 2008                    UK NPSA Alert on Heparin Flushes

June 17, 2008              Technology Workarounds Defeat Safety Intent

September 15, 2009    ETTO’s: Efficiency-Thoroughness Trade-Offs

August 24, 2010         The BP Oil Spill - Analogies in Healthcare

March 6, 2012             Lab Error

July 2, 2013                Issues in Alarm Management

April 8, 2014               FMEA to Avoid Breastmilk Mixups

October 7, 2014          Our Take on Patient Safety Walk Rounds

April 5, 2016               Workarounds Overriding Safety

June 2016                    ISMP Article on Workarounds





Koppel R, Tosha Wetterneck T, Telles JL, Karsh B-T. Workarounds To Barcode Medication Administration Systems: Their Occurrences, Causes, And Threats To Patient Safety. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association 2008; 15(4): 408-423



van der Veen, W, Taxis, K, Wouters, H, Vermeulen, H, Bates, DW, van den Bemt, PMLA; the BCMA Study Group. Factors associated with workarounds in barcode‐assisted medication administration in hospitals. J Clin Nurs. 2020; 29: 2239– 2250



Fraczkowski D, Matson J, Lopez KD, Nurse workarounds in the electronic health record: An integrative review, Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association 2020; 27(7): 1149-1165






Print “September 2020 More on Workarounds










Daylight Savings Time Impacts Patient Safety?



We’ve done multiple columns on how patient safety is impacted by time of day, day of the week, and month of the year. But Daylight Savings Time?


A study, just presented in abstract form at the SLEEP 2020 meeting, found that adverse events resulting from human errors increased by 18.7% in the week after the Spring time change (Kolla 2020).


The Mayo Clinic researchers began with the premise that the “Spring forward” change at the start of Daylight Savings Time (DST) which reduces sleep opportunity by an hour, could result in sleep deprivation in healthcare workers and lead to an increase the potential for medical errors. The researchers looked at 8 years of data of self-reported adverse events (AE’s) in inpatient, outpatient, and ambulatory settings that occurred 7 days prior to and following the Spring and Fall time changes in a large healthcare organization and identified AE’s likely resulting from human error.


They found that adverse events resulting from human errors increased by a statistically significant 18.7% in the week after the Spring time change. A 5% increase in adverse events in the week following the Autumn return to Standard Time from DST was not statistically significant.


The authors conclude there is a significant increase in human error related AE’s following the “Spring forward” clock change which can jeopardize patient safety. They suggest that DST might best be eliminated. Alternatively, they recommend policy makers and healthcare organizations should evaluate measures to mitigate the increased risk during this period.


The study used self-reported AE’s in a single healthcare organization and there was no formal measure of actual sleep deprivation. But the findings are fascinating. The authors note their findings need to be replicated in other healthcare organizations.


However, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine on August 26, 2020 issued a position statement that these seasonal time changes should be abolished in favor of a fixed, national, year-round standard time (Rishi 2020). It cites “an abundance of accumulated evidence indicates that the acute transition from standard time to daylight saving time incurs significant public health and safety risks, including increased risk of adverse cardiovascular events, mood disorders, and motor vehicle crashes.” It also states that daylight saving time is less aligned with human circadian biology and that circadian misalignment may be associated in the longer term with increased cardiovascular disease risk, metabolic syndrome and other health risks.



Some of our other columns on the role of fatigue in Patient Safety:


November 9, 2010      12-Hour Nursing Shifts and Patient Safety

April 26, 2011             Sleeping Air Traffic Controllers: What About Healthcare?

February 2011             Update on 12-hour Nursing Shifts

September 2011          Shiftwork and Patient Safety

November 2011          Restricted Housestaff Work Hours and Patient Handoffs

January 2012               Joint Commission Sentinel Event Alert: Healthcare Worker Fatigue and Patient Safety

January 3, 2012           Unintended Consequences of Restricted Housestaff Hours

June 2012                    June 2012 Surgeon Fatigue

November 2012          The Mid-Day Nap

November 13, 2012    The 12-Hour Nursing Shift: More Downsides

July 29, 2014              The 12-Hour Nursing Shift: Debate Continues

October 2014              Another Rap on the 12-Hour Nursing Shift

December 2, 2014       ANA Position Statement on Nurse Fatigue

August 2015               Surgical Resident Duty Reform and Postoperative Outcomes

September 2015          Surgery Previous Night Does Not Impact Attending Surgeon Next Day

September 29, 2015    More on the 12-Hour Nursing Shift

September 6, 2016      Napping Debate Rekindled

April 18, 2017             Alarm Response and Nurse Shift Duration

July 11, 2017              The 12-Hour Shift Takes More Hits

February 13, 2018       Interruptions in the ED

April 2018                   Radiologists Get Fatigued, Too

August 2018               Burnout and Medical Errors

September 4, 2018      The 12-Hour Nursing Shift: Another Nail in the Coffin

August 2020               New Twist on Resident Work Hours and Patient Safety

August 25, 2020         The Off-Hours Effect in Radiology






Kolla B, Coombes BJ, Morgenthaler TI, Mansukhani MP. 0173 Spring Forward, Fall Back: Increased Patient Safety-Related Adverse Events Following the Spring Time Change. Sleep 2020; 43(Supplement_1): A69

(Kolla 2020)



Rishi MA, Ahmed O, Perez JHB, et al. Daylight saving time: an American Academy of Sleep Medicine position statement. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine 2020; Published online August 26, 2020

(Rishi 2020)




Print “September 2020 Daylight Savings Time Impacts Patient Safety?



Print “September 2020 What's New in the Patient Safety World (full column)

Print “September 2020 AORN on Distractions and Interruptions

Print “September 2020 Care Processes and the Weekend Effect

Print “September 2020 More on Workarounds

Print “September 2020 Daylight Savings Time Impacts Patient Safety?



Print “PDF version









Tip of the Week Archive


What’s New in the Patient Safety World Archive