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Miscommunication Plays Role in Many Preventable Medical Errors

Our medical malpractice lawyers report on how miscommunication plays a role in many preventable medical errors.

Medical errors caused by miscommunication are one of the leading causes of death in hospitals in New York and across the country, research shows.

Miscommunication-related medical errors can include mistakes made by doctors and nurses after a patient is handed off or placed in a new setting.

These medical errors represent hospital malpractice. They can result in serious harm or death to patients.

Study: Modernization of Communication Methods Would Protect Patients

Many of the situations that are ripe for communication errors are preventable and can be eliminated by adopting a standardized process for documenting patient information, according to a study done a few years ago by Boston Children’s Hospital.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that using a more modern method for passing on information to the next team of doctors and nurses dramatically reduces the odds of communication errors.

The researchers studied 1,255 patient admissions and found that medical errors decreased by 45.8 percent when a standardized hand-off process was adopted. That decrease surprised even the research team.

Led by Dr. Christopher Landrigan, the researchers looked at the fact that the handling of patient hand-offs typically are not a part of regular medical training.

While doctors and nurses spend years learning about life-saving interventions, an equally important aspect of care – ensuring that fellow medical providers get the right information – rarely receives the same attention, according to the study.

Additionally, physicians typically are trained to take notes and make summaries when diagnosing and treating patients – but not in a way that makes it clear to the other medical care providers who will inevitably manage some aspect of a patient’s care, the study noted.

With that in mind, study researchers looked at how the adoption of standardized hand-offs improved patient care in a number of ways.

For instance, the new method emphasized face-to-face communication between clinicians and provided them with devices that would enable them to keep up with important components of patient care.

Also, they used technology to ensure that patient records contained updated information during each hand-off.

Previously, patient records had to be re-entered manually. However, under the new procedure which the researchers had examined, patient information was continually updated automatically, which enabled physicians and nurses to stay abreast of new developments.

The researchers concluded that, when doctors and nurses used the new, standardized method, they were able to give patients more bedside time in a one-on-one environment, which ultimately helped to improve patient safety.

Other Research Points to Problem with Communication Errors

Many other studies have looked at the role that communication errors play in medical malpractice claims.

For instance, an analysis performed by the research firm, CRICO Strategies, examined 23,000 medical malpractice claims which had been filed between 2009 and 2013. Out of those claims, 30 percent, or 7,149 claims, could be traced to communication issues, including 1,744 cases that involved patient deaths.

Will Hospitals Improve Communication?

The Boston Children’s Hospital researchers said they hoped they could share the techniques analyzed in their study and help to decrease the rate of medical errors at other U.S. hospitals.

Unfortunately, whether it is because of sheer bureaucracy or the size of the facilities, hospitals can be slow to institute new methods. As a result, it is likely that miscommunication-related medical errors will continue to happen in New York and elsewhere.

Therefore, it is important for families and patients to understand that they may have a legal right to seek relief when treatment goes awry by filing a medical malpractice lawsuit.

If you believe miscommunication or other preventable mistakes played a role in a medical error that has harmed you or a loved one in Albany, Syracuse or elsewhere in New York, contact Powers & Santola, LLP. We can provide a free and confidential review of your case.

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