Communication errors during handoff procedures may be life-threatening

Miscommunication may result in thousands of adverse medical events. Information is often left out or incorrectly communicated during handoff procedures.

Whether going to the hospital or seeing a family practitioner, Maryland residents expect a high quality of care for a checkup or treatment. This is usually the case, but medical mistakes occur more often than many people might think. A fatal medical error or one that causes an injury or worsened medical condition can be devastating to those involved. Medical bills, funeral expenses and lost wages are just a few of the repercussions that may result from a simple, yet tragic, doctor error.

How prevalent are medical errors, exactly? According to Health Care IT News, preventable mistakes in doctors' offices and medical facilities are the third most common cause of death in the country. It is estimated that about 400,000 people each year - 1,000 per day - die as a result of doctor mistakes. An additional 10,000 serious health complications from doctor mistakes occur every day. To illustrate the severity of this problem, a Johns Hopkins medical professional equated it to two 747 airplanes crashing each day.

Sobering information about doctor miscommunication

Communication errors are one of the most common ways that doctors make mistakes, reported KQED News. These often happen during "handoff" procedures among doctors, specialists, nurses or other medical staff. What is a handoff procedure? This is a practice that occurs whenever a patient's care is switched to someone else. Handoffs are standard when the staff changes shifts or when the patient moves to another facility - for example, when the patient starts physical therapy after being released from the hospital. Ideally, handoff procedures would thoroughly and accurately relay medical information to the next people handling a patient's care.

Unfortunately, miscommunications frequently occur. The following examples show how serious a mistake in communication can be:

  • A chart omission resulting in a mistake in dosage
  • A concerning MRI or blood test result not being correctly noted
  • Changes in the patient's vital signs or symptoms not being communicated

Unsurprisingly, studies have shown that improving handoff procedures may save lives. One such study by the University of California San Francisco and several other institutions suggested that improving handoff communication methods may lessen the chance of patient injury or death by 30 percent. However, there is no national standard in place for ensuring accurate handoff methods, and no mandatory requirement in most hospitals to report errors.

The mistakes that result from a communication error or other form of malpractice can result in costly medical bills, lost wages and a decreased quality of life, as well as life-threatening situations in some cases. You have the right to purse compensation if a medical error caused a worsened medical condition. You will need to contact a Maryland attorney with experience in medical malpractice as soon as possible after the incident.