Recent Newspaper & Online Columns by Kate Scannell MD

VA scandal shows we must speak up about the deadly silences in health care

August 6, 2014

Tags: deadly silence, healthcare, VA scandal, Shuttle Columbia, medical mistakes, speak up, patient safety, veterans administration

By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated clumnist
First published in print: 08/03/2014

What does "patient safety" have to do with the catastrophic 2003 explosion of the space shuttle Columbia, killing all seven of its crew members?

A lot, according to patient-safety experts. They regularly discuss the Columbia disaster as a classic case study of the potential for silence to kill -- whether in an organization like the National Aeronautical Space Administration (NASA) or a large health care system like the VA. Silence, it's been shown repeatedly, can be deadly not only when individuals don't speak up about problems risking human safety, but also when organizations silence those who do. (more…)

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Dr. Kate Scannell: The "July effect" in hospitals -- seasonal fact and fiction

July 22, 2013

Tags: July effect in hospitals, July effect, patient safety, hospital error, physician inexperience, The Common Sense Medical Society

By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated columnist
First Published in Print: 07/20/2013

The first thing I remembered was waking up in a strange room with severe pain in my lower back. It felt like someone was jabbing an ice pick into my spine, repeatedly.

Indeed, as it turned out, a man was actually standing behind me and pokingme with a long metal needle. "Don't move!" he warned.

It took me a few moments to realize that I was in a hospital emergency room. The clues gradually emerged: Everyone was wearing scrubs or white coats, the room was loud and harshly lit, blood (perhaps mine?) spotted the floor, and, tellingly, I was freezing -- marginally covered with a hospital gown that didn't quite merit a 5-thread-count rating. (more…)

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Health and safety of patients must not get lost in e-Doctoring

January 8, 2012

Tags: eDoctoring, iPatient, iDoctor, distracted doctors, patient safety, Scannell, Angry Birds, iPad, medical devices

By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated Columnist
First Published in Print: 01/07/2012

Is it OK for an anesthesiologist to play Angry Birds on his iPhone while administering anesthesia during a gallbladder surgery? During your gallbladder surgery?

What do you think about a surgeon voice-dialing her colleagues or chatting with family during the operation?

Although we've inhabited the Digital Age for many years, only recently have we begun to examine how it might affect us personally as patients and doctors, and whether overall patient safety and care have actually improved.

This inquiry is long overdue, and, as recent studies suggest, urgent. (more…)

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Sleep deprivation is a wake-up call in the air and on the ground

May 15, 2011

Tags: sleep deprivation, medical error, pilot error, patient safety, fatigue, Scannell

By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated Columnist
First Published in Print: 05/15/2011

FOR WEEKS, we've been reading about air traffic controllers falling asleep on the job. In one case, an airborne ambulance transporting a sick patient had to circle a Nevada airport for 16 minutes while the controller snoozed. In March, two jetliners inbound for Reagan National Airport were forced to land without clearance while the air controller slept.

In response to such disturbing incidents, the office of fatigue risk management at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been collaborating with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association to identify and remedy conditions fostering controller fatigue. While not an expert at such matters, I have a (grounded) hunch these agencies will discover that 99.3 percent of human beings who sit alone within a tower, staring out for hours at a yawning night sky, working irregularly staggered shifts -- will tend to feel a little sleepy.

So far, the FAA has recommended a minimum nine-hour break between controller shifts, and at least one additional buddy present on overnight shifts at 27 airports that had previously maintained only one controller.

On the runway of public opinion about aviation safety, concerns about pilot fatigue immediately preceded our current focus on air traffic controllers. An ABC News investigative report in February claimed that "despite denials from the airline industry, large numbers of pilots report to duty every day after getting only a few hours of what fatigue experts call 'destructive sleep' in crowded crew lounges and so-called 'crash pads'." More than two dozen accidents and 250 fatalities in the U.S. had been linked to pilot fatigue in the past 20 years.

Public anxiety associated with air traffic controller or pilot fatigue is soaring high, partly fueled by post-9/11 insecurities regarding flying in general. But the reality is that fatigue-related safety hazards loom even larger on the ground. Whether referring to ourselves or to others within our daily lives, being sleepless IN Seattle might be riskier overall than being sleepless over it. (more…)

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