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Why patient hand-offs in hospitals can lead to errors

| Jul 28, 2020 | Medical Malpractice

Patients often get transferred between several departments within a hospital or from one health care facility to another during the course of their treatment for an injury or illness. It’s not unusual for a person who has been seriously injured in a car crash to go from an emergency department to an intensive care unit (ICU) to surgery to a hospital room and then perhaps to a rehabilitation facility.

That’s a lot of hand-offs between medical personnel and a lot of opportunities for communications breakdowns that can endanger a patient’s safety. One survey by the Harvard Medical Institutions’ Risk Management Foundation found that about 30 percent of U.S. malpractice suits involved communication breakdowns between clinicians and that these failures were responsible for over 1,700 fatalities over five years.

These communication breakdowns can be caused by interruptions, lag time, confusion and lack of face-to-face communication. They’re at least twice as likely when medical professionals in different disciplines are communicating with each other.

One health care commission was so concerned about the communication failures during patient hand-offs that it published an alert several years ago with a set of actions for both senders and receivers of information to follow. Interestingly, despite all of the technological advancements in communication, one of their recommendations was to communicate in person in a quiet area free of disruptions.

Another recommendation was to try to include not only all members of the patient’s outgoing and incoming medical team but the patients and their family members as well. This can help ensure that everyone is getting the same information, that no critical information is being forgotten and that everyone has a chance to ask questions or seek clarification.

If a loved one’s condition worsened in a hospital or other medical facility due to medical error or negligence, this all-to-common lack of accurate and adequate communication could be, at least in part, to blame. If you believe they were the victim of medical malpractice, it’s wise to talk with an experienced attorney to find out what your legal options are for seeking justice and compensation.


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