Introduction: Healthcare students are often required to perform predetermined numbers of clinical skills to prove competence. The pressures of meeting predetermined clinical skill numbers may result in students overtreating patients. Overtreatment is not without consequence to the patient. This study aimed to investigate perceptions related to possible overtreatment of patients by emergency medical care students in three South African higher education institutions (HEIs).
Methods: This cross-sectional study used a purpose-designed, anonymous online questionnaire to collect data on possible patient overtreatment from emergency medical care student participants at three South African HEIs.
Results: Of the participants, 45 self-reported reasonably low incidences of overtreatment of patients. The prescribed skill requirements were deemed appropriate as were practical shift numbers, but there was concern about achieving prescribed skill numbers. Participants generally considered risk versus benefit and clinical mentors generally agreed with student decisions without permitting overtreatment practices. Intravenous (IV) cannulation, oxygen administration and spinal immobilisation were the most common forms of overtreatment with advanced airway management and IV cannulation the most difficult to achieve. Lack of appropriately qualified practitioners and low patient numbers were the most common barriers to achieving required skill numbers.
Conclusion: There was concern among participants about not reaching prerequisite skill numbers. Self-reported overtreatment of patients by participants was uncommon. The list of self-reported procedures most often forming part of overtreatment seemed to contradict this. The most common forms of overtreatment were clinical procedures that posed potential risk to the patient. There is a need to further explore overtreatment within healthcare student populations.
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