Miscommunication between Primary and ER Docs Is Common: What Does it Mean for Patients?

While a great deal of health care reform has focused on doctor-patient communications, less focus has been given to care coordination between primary- and emergency-care physicians. In February 2011, the Center for Studying Health System Change (CSHSC) published interesting findings about this issue.

Polling 42 primary care and emergency room physicians, the CSHSC’s researchers collected data regarding the ability and willingness of these physicians to communicate and coordinate patient care. The study revealed that sharing patient information was either inconvenient or impractical based on the clinical environment and interruptions in patient care.

Lack of coordinated care can have negative results on patients. Patients can receive unnecessary or duplicative treatments. Patients who opt for emergency room care may not receive adequate education about appropriate use of the more emergent services. During the transitions from hospital to PCP care, medication management, self-care responsibilities and other problems can arise. As a result, a patient may suffer an adverse medical event that could have serious consequences.

In any clinical setting, physicians must take due care in treating their patients, even if the relationship is short term. According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), 225,000 deaths occur each year from medical errors, including 106,000 deaths due to adverse events of medications. Some of these incidents could be prevented with meaningful communications between doctors.

Patients injured due to the negligence of a doctor need not think they are alone or without remedy. According to a National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF) survey, 42 percent of people believe they, a relative, or friend have experienced a medical error.. Indeed, emergency room errors account for over 50 percent of medical malpractice suits. Under these claims, damages associated with medical bills, lost wages, disability, and pain and suffering can be recovered.

In order for patients to receive effective care, emergency room and primary care doctors will have to bridge the communication gap. Eliminating these issues will likely reduce the number of negative patient outcomes that require lawsuits.