- Staffing shortages and healthcare workers' mental health are the top two patient safety concerns for 2022, according to a report out Monday from healthcare safety organization Emergency Care Research Institute.
- Clinical issues caused by device malfunctions or medical errors topped the list in past years before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, though this year's and last's top patient safety concerns are directly linked to the effects of COVID-19 on the healthcare system, ECRI said in the report.
- Researchers said the top concern — staffing shortages — are actively jeopardizing patient safety, with many patients waiting longer for care, even in life-threatening emergencies, according to the report.
Two years after the COVID-19 pandemic began, providers are still grappling with staffing shortages that have only gotten worse with new variants and virus waves. Across the country, healthcare workers suffering from stress and burnout are leaving their roles, while some quit to take higher-paying, temporary traveling positions.
As more healthcare workers leave their jobs, ECRI researchers said patients could face higher risks when seeking care with few solutions.
"The chaos and understaffing in hospitals and other healthcare settings seen over the last two years could become the new normal for the foreseeable future," without any interventions, the report said.
"Healthcare and government leaders now must aggressively manage these challenges amidst a lingering pandemic and a weakened health system by prioritizing recruitment, retention, and clinician resilience," Marcus Schabacker, CEO of ECRI, said in a release.
While systems currently are hyper-focused on recruitment and retainment efforts, long-term outlooks remain bleak due to a number of factors.
Many nurses in particular are nearing retirement. The median age of registered nurses in 2020 was 52 years old, and the median age of a licensed practical or vocational nurse was 53 years old, according to a report from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing mentioned in the report.
Nursing schools, meanwhile, are unable to supply enough nurses to replace those retiring or leaving the profession due to resource strains, namely faculty and clinical site shortages, the report said.
Pandemic-driven issues first appeared in 2021's list, when racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare delivery — particularly when it comes to screening and treatments for COVID-19 — were the top patient safety concern.
Overall preparedness for pandemic response and supply chain and drug shortage concerns also made that list.
Here is the full list of patient safety concerns highlighted in ECRI's report for 2022:
1. Staffing shortages
2. COVID-19 effects on healthcare workers' mental health
3. Bias and racism in addressing patient safety
4. Vaccine coverage gaps and errors
5. Cognitive biases and diagnostic error
6. Non-ventilator healthcare-associated pneumonia
7. Human factors in operationalizing telehealth
8. International supply chain disruptions
9. Products subject to emergency use authorization
10. Telemetry monitoring