This article appears in the August issue Patient Safety Monitor Journal.
Hospital EDs are extremely busy during the summer months because of accidents and injuries. While there’s no word yet on whether 2017 will break a heat record (though we hope not), you can expect it to bring a familiar brand of dangerous situations. But are you prepared for them?
One of the challenges of summer patient safety hazards is that most of them occur outside the facility. Sherry Goldstein, MA, BSN, RN, CNOR, a principal consultant at Compass Clinical Consulting, says the onus is on hospitals to be proactive by promoting community and school education on common summer safety hazards. Some steps hospitals can take are:
• Have extra ED staff on the weekends to cover the influx of patients.
• Put up safety poster reminders regarding common summer safety hazards.
• Send out newsletters to neighboring homes with information on how to have a safe and fun summer.
• Get involved with community events. Some facilities will send staff to sporting events, malls, etc., and take blood pressure measurements and hand out bottles of water or safety educational information.
Overheating and heat stroke
The most obvious summertime risks involve heat. There are three stages of overheating: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. The latter is the most severe form and can occur if a person’s body temperature rises to 104ºF (40ºC) or higher.
Passing this threshold becomes easier in summer, with people exerting themselves in the sun. To prevent heat illnesses, patients and visitors should be reminded to stay well hydrated, take frequent rests in the shade if they’re working outdoors, and wear a sunhat. The elderly, children, and the homeless in particular are major risk groups for these conditions.
“For seniors and families that do not have air conditioners, we recommend taking cool showers or filling the bathtub up and taking a dip every three hours to cool down the core body temperature,” says Goldstein. “And don’t leave children, the elderly, and pets in cars with no air conditioning. Cracking the windows won’t help.”
Hospitals’ internal temperatures are usually regulated by a computer program and follow guidelines from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, the American Society for Healthcare Engineering, and the American National Standards Institute. This is why some communities identify hospitals as emergency “cooling zones” for those who need them.