Does Bad Communication Between Doctors Cause Serious Medical Errors?

Can better communication between healthcare providers prevent dangerous medical errors that harm patients? According to new information, it is indeed an effective measure for reducing medical mistakes.

There are numerous causes for medical mistakes, which include misdiagnoses, wrong-site surgery, and medications wrongly prescribed. But miscommunication between health providers has been cited as causing two out of every three serious preventable medical errors in hospitals. A recent study that took a closer look at medical errors provided a way to limit such catastrophic miscommunications. At issue was whether gaps in communication or miscommunication in patient “handoffs” contribute to mistakes in care that hurt hospital patients.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, involved nine pediatric hospitals from 2010 to 2013. Researchers prepared a standardized protocol for medical residents going off shift to use for communicating patient information to their replacements.

The new procedures provided tools to physicians for remembering the types of patient information that needed to be relayed from shift to shift. The information included a patient summary, the severity of the patient’s illness, and contingency plans for the patient’s care. The medical residents communicated the information both verbally and in writing. The medical professionals starting work were, in turn, required to repeat back the information to the departing physicians for verification.

The comprehensive nature of the information and communicating it all consistently during each patient handoff were keys.

According to the researchers, this enhanced communication process reduced the hospitals’ medical errors by 23 percent and preventable adverse events – medical mistakes that caused patients harm – by 30 percent. Based on these results, the researchers say they are taking their handoff communication protocols to 32 additional hospitals for implementation.

According to statistics, 1,100 preventable drug errors occur each day in hospitals and about 2,000 patients every day acquire a serious infection during a hospital stay. Some reports link hundreds of thousands of deaths per year to preventable medical errors. So any efforts to reduce them are worthwhile.

Yet despite all efforts, preventable medical errors that cause catastrophic harm to patients continue to occur. When a loved one dies due to a medical mistake, you may want to consult a medical malpractice attorney to review your legal options.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertising.