Staffing shortages and the mental health of healthcare workers top a list of patient safety concerns released by nonprofit patient safety organization ECRI.

While the annual list is typically dominated by clinical issues caused by device malfunctions or medical errors, ECRI researchers say the most significant concerns at present are caused by crises that have simmered, but COVID-19 exponentially worsened.

“Shortages in the healthcare workforce and mental health challenges were broadly known and well-documented for years,” says Marcus Schabacker, MD, PhD, president and CEO of ECRI. “Both physicians and nurses were at risk of burnout, emotional exhaustion, and depression prior to 2020, but the pandemic made both issues significantly worse.”

While both trends were known, their effect on patient care was not well documented. Now, ECRI researchers say inadequate staffing is actively jeopardizing patient safety. Due to staffing shortages, many patients are waiting longer for care, even in life-threatening emergencies, or simply being turned away.

With reports of more healthcare workers planning on leaving the industry, ECRI experts say patients could face even higher risks without proactive solutions. Without intervention, 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.

“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,” Schabacker says. “As leaders, their most important job is ensuring that patient health and safety are top priorities.”

To identify the most pressing patient safety threats, ECRI analyzed a wide scope of data, including scientific literature, patient safety events or concerns reported to or investigated by ECRI, client research requests and queries, and other internal and external data sources.

The top 10 patient safety concerns for 2022 are:

  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. Nonventilator healthcare-associated pneumonia
  7. Human factors in operationalizing telehealth
  8. International supply chain disruptions
  9. Products subject to emergency use authorization
  10. Telemetry monitoring

ECRI’s Top 10 Patient Safety Concerns for 2022 report provides detailed steps that organizations can take to prevent adverse incidents and is available for download.