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"Handoff" Miscommunication Breeds Medical Errors


Posted on Jul 14, 2011

A recent study from the Archives of Internal Medicine quantifies the problem of miscommunication during hospital "handoffs" by comparing what informants think they explained to what recipients believe they were told.

Miscommunication often occurs during handoff points, when one medical professional's shift ends or when a patient is transferred between departments or locations. Such miscommunication too often leads to medical errors.

Handoffs can occur in the following circumstances: between doctors or nurses at the end of a shift and the start of a new one, between a primary care physician and specialist during a referral, between a hospital specialist and primary care physician during a discharge, when a patient is moved from the recovery room to a medical surgical unit, when a patient is transferred from an emergency room to a critical care unit, or when a patient is moved from a hospital to a nursing home.

When a primary care physician (PCP) refers the patient to a specialist, the PCP believes that the patient's history was conveyed to the specialist 69% of the time according to the study. However, the specialist says he/she received the information 35% of the time. On the other hand, specialists claim they sent consultation results to PCPs 81% of the time, whereas PCPs admit they only receive them 62% of the time.

Furthermore, according to a 2007 study, direct communication between hospital specialists ("hospitalists") and PCPs only occurs about 3-20% of the time.

As a practicing medical malpractice, wrongful death, and personal injury attorney in New York, I deal with the dangerous consequences that arise from negligent communication like this every day. If you have experienced related problems, I want you to pick up the phone and call me. I can help. If you would like more information about how medical malpractice and  cases work in the state of New York, I encourage you to explore my educational website http://www.oginski-law.com. If you have legal questions,  I urge you to pick up the phone and call me at 516-487-8207 or by e-mail at [email protected] to answer your questions. That's what I do every day. I welcome your call.

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