Study communication failures among medical staff often prove deadly

From kitchens and warehouses to industrial plants and office settings, the simple reality is that no single place of employment is immune to breakdowns in communication. However, while breakdowns can be time-consuming and inefficient, the fallout from something like a misplaced order or a failure to complete a report on time is generally limited in most instances.

There are some places, though, where breakdowns in communications can have dramatic and even life-threatening consequences, including hospitals and doctor’s offices. Indeed, a recently released study by researchers at one Massachusetts-based research and analytics group linked communication failures to an alarming number of patient injuries and fatalities.

Specifically, after examining 23,658 medical malpractice cases filed throughout the U.S. from 2009 to 2013, the researchers determined that more than 7,000 of them — roughly 30 percent — involved some sort of patient harm caused by communication failures among medical staff, or medical staff and their patients.

Even more shocking, they determined that these communication failures resulted in an astounding 1,744 patient deaths.

Some of the examples cited include:

  • A patient dying of an internal hemorrhage after a nurse failed to report obvious signs of internal bleeding to the surgeon.
  • A patient dying of diabetic ketoacidosis after a medical office failed to relay messages to the primary care physician.
  • A patient’s cancer diagnosis being delayed for a year after lab results attached to an electronic medical record were not forwarded to the primary care physician.

As alarming as this study is, experts indicate that things are at least moving in the right direction to rectify this problem. For instance, more hospitals are adopting systems designed to facilitate better communication during patient handoffs at the end of shifts, a notoriously hectic timeframe during which essential patient information can go overlooked.

While it’s encouraging that the medical profession is aware of this problem and working to fix things, it’s likely of little consolation to patients and their families who have already been harmed by communication breakdowns. Indeed, those who find themselves in this situation should give serious consideration to meeting with an experienced legal professional to learn more about their options.

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