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Mistakes Made During Hospital Patient Handoffs

Most hospitals, at one time or another, have become overwhelmed during the COVID-19 pandemic.  An influx of coronavirus patients can strain not only doctors and nurses treating them, but other medical professionals throughout a hospital. And these overworked healthcare providers – often times exhausted and eager to leave at the end of their shifts – may pose dangers to their patients.

The period when one shift of hospital medical care providers ends and another begins can be fraught with patient harm if not handled correctly.  These periods not only include transfers between day and night shifts, but also between types of physicians, such as a surgeon and a primary care doctor.  Even when transferring a patient between one facility and another.

Called patient “handoffs,” a successful transition relies on good communication.  Unfortunately, poor communication during patient handoffs is all too common – and damaging.

Medical Errors Made Due To Poor Communication

According to The Joint Commission, an organization devoted to improving the safety of hospital medical care, 80% of serious medical errors involve poor communications during patient handoffs.

When hospitals are deluged with patients, communication mistakes during patient handoffs can become more frequent.

So what should hospitals do to prevent serious communication errors between healthcare providers?

Distractions can disrupt the safety of patient handoffs. Medical staff should, whenever possible, avoid highly trafficked and noisy places when discussing patient care. Important instructions can be missed or wrongly noted – such as an incorrect medication dosage – when instructions can’t be clearly heard or the listener is not fully focused.

Related to this is the importance of care givers speaking in-person rather than over video or other electronic forms of communication, such as voicemail. Face-to-face conversation, in the proper setting, helps avoid misunderstandings as well as allows for back-and-forth clarifications during patient handoffs.

Hospital Patient Information Mistakes

Potentially dangerous hospital miscommunications can begin well before the patient handoff stage.  A hospital patient may be misidentified upon admittance or care notes may not follow as treatment ensues.

Therefore, prior to a patient handoff, the patient’s vital information must be confirmed, including condition assessment, plan of care, list of allergies, dated test results, list of medications, and any contingency plans.

It is critical to patient safety that only the most important information be exchanged.  Otherwise, incoming providers may be distracted with tangential care notes and instructions.

To ensure a thorough and accurate transfer of patient information during handoffs, many safety organizations advocate for the use of structured checklists.

A 2015 study of the use of standardized checklists during patient handoffs (“Structured Handoff Checklists Improve Clinical Measures in Patients Discharged from the Neurointensive Care Unit”) found that such checklists significantly reduced medication errors and unnecessary medical treatment.

Whether facing “normal” patient levels or heightened burdens during a pandemic, patient safety should be the top priority of hospitals and their medical care professionals. Too often patients needlessly suffer from medical errors that could and should have been prevented if protocols were followed, including during patient handoffs.

If you unexpectedly lost a loved one or if you suffered harm during a hospital stay, turn to an experienced medical malpractice attorney to conduct a thorough investigation.

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

Authored by Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C., posted in Blog July 20, 2020