Can Miscommunication Hurt Hospital Patients?

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Poor communications between healthcare providers account for about seven out of every 10 patient deaths caused by a mistake in medical care.

This statistic is attributed to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality as part of the findings of a study released last month on how to prevent medical communication errors.  The study was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research-Human Factor.

Types of Miscommunication That Can Harm Patients

This study looked at communications during patient handoffs in hospitals – the ending of one care giver shift and the beginning of another.  Clarity in three transition areas is key in these events:

·         The transfer of patient care information

·         The transfer of patient care authority

·         The transfer of patient care responsibility

If there is a communication breakdown or misunderstanding in any one of these areas, patients can suffer.

Researchers recorded and later analyzed conversations during patient handoffs and noted communication failures, which were categorized as:

·         Missing or incomplete patient or care information

·         Conflicting patient or care information

·         Ambiguous patient or care information

They concluded that a consistent, structured approach in conveying vital information helps eliminate serious medical miscommunications.

A 2013 study examining medical miscommunication arrived at the same conclusion using different data.  It examined 23,000 medical malpractice lawsuits and found that almost a third were attributed to miscommunication between medical care providers.

Poor Communications Throughout Hospitals

The communication errors in this study were gathered across hospital settings, including the emergency room, and inpatient and outpatient care centers.  Of the patients most severely injured during medical care, 37 percent were linked to communication mistakes.

Poor communication between care givers and their patients can lead to serious harm as well.  When care providers ignore patient complaints or provide incomplete follow-up instructions after discharge, for example, they can expose patients to needless risk.

Hospitals should have in place a culture focused on patient safety and concrete steps, such as patient handoff protocols, that ensure the culture is sustained not by words but by actions.

If you had a family member die or you suffered serious harm due to what you believe is an error in medical care, contact an attorney experienced in investigating and litigating medical malpractice claims.

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

Authored by Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C. in Medical Malpractice on January 16, 2017