Serious Medical Errors Caused by Poor Physician Communication

Medical errors that harm patients can be caused by poor communication between healthcare providers and patients and their families.

That’s the conclusion of a recently released study published online by BMJ (“Patient Safety after Implementation of a Coproduced Family Centered Communication Programme: Multicenter Before and After Intervention Study”).

Patient Handoffs and Medical Mistakes

The study is an extended look at I-PASS, which is a communication model for healthcare providers to follow during patient handoffs.  At this time, doctor and nurses who are ending their shifts review the status of their patients with the incoming healthcare team.  It’s been estimated that poor communication during patient handoffs is responsible for 80 percent of serious medical errors that hospital patients suffer.

A 2014 benchmark study (“Changes in Medical Errors after Implementation of a Handoff Program”) showed that this I-PASS model reduced medical errors by 23 percent and serious patient harm by 30 percent.

The research was done at nine pediatric hospitals throughout the United States, encompassing almost 11, 000 patients.  I-PASS is an acronym for the discussion topics that should be included in every patient handoff:

I: Illness severity

P: Patient summary

A: Action list

S: Situation awareness and contingency planning

S: Synthesis by receiver; confirm that incoming medical providers understand what is communicated

Communicate with Patients and Their Families

In this new study, researchers extended the I-PASS communication model beyond doctors and nurses to patients and their families.

A new communication protocol was devised and employed in U.S. hospitals that was patient-centric.  Physicians and nurses were open with patients and their loved ones; asking if they had any concerns or questions. In addition, doctors provided regular updates and spoke plainly – avoiding medical jargon – when going over treatment plans with their patients and their families.

These discussions had a formal structure for doctors and nurses to follow.  And patients and their families were asked to communicate back the treatment plan to make sure they understood it fully.

At the end of the study, researchers found that families were more open in sharing their concerns, and nurses were more open in their communication with patients.  All involved expressed a higher level of satisfaction.

More importantly, serious medical errors that harmed patients, such as wrong drug dosages, fell 38 percent when this open communication model was used compared to the time before it was implemented.

Hospital patients and their families deserve clear communication to not only put their minds at ease during stressful situations, but to also ensure protection from errors during medical care that should never happen.

If you had a family member suffer or die needlessly because of a serious mistake, turn to an experienced medical malpractice attorney to scrutinize every aspect of the medical treatment.

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 December 20, 2018