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Can a miscommunication lead to medical malpractice?

Individuals trust their chosen medical care provider to act professionally and be detail-oriented through even the most complex situation. When that trust is misplaced, however, patients can suffer dramatic – even deadly – consequences.

From nurses to surgeons to pharmacists, medical professionals must take care to provide exceptional service to those struggling with maladies ranging from minor inconveniences to life-altering conditions. Unfortunately, cases of medical negligence can be centered on numerous factors from lack of training to faulty equipment to defective medications. One of the most common causes of fatal malpractice errors, though, is simple communication.

report published by CRICO Strategies highlights data recorded from studying the clinical and legal records of 23,658 malpractice cases from 2009 to 2013. They identified more than 7,000 cases where communication failures ultimately harmed patients. More than 1,700 of those cases led to patient death.

What types of communication errors can occur?

There are myriad ways effective communication can fall through the cracks, for example:

  • Failing to take an accurate patient history
  • Failing to record a patient pain complaint
  • Failure of a nurse to communicate patient pain to a surgeon after a procedure
  • Failure to relay a patient’s changing symptoms to the primary care provider
  • Poor intake
  • Unclear medication instructions
  • Failure to instruct patient on drug interactions

Now that many clinics rely on electronic records, digital errors can be introduced, including:

  • Incorrect patient attribution
  • Entering data into the incorrect field
  • Failing to link patient to doctor
  • Failing to note a recent procedure or medication change
  • Data corruption

What can be done?

Facilities across the United States are experimenting with numerous procedures to counteract the proliferation of communication errors. These can rank from simple mantras such as “give the patient your full attention” to behavioral changes such as “make eye contact with the doctor when you communicate patient notes.” Procedurally, many facilities employ a “hand-off meeting” to ensure all providers are on the same page about patients when moving from one level of care to another. Additionally, a “surgical huddle” is often employed before any procedure to ensure any changes are communicated and the agreed-upon gameplan is followed.

It is crucial that you understand your rights if you fall victim to medical negligence. Don’t hesitate to discuss your matter with a legal professional for guidance.