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Miscommunication plays large role in medical malpractice cases

| Feb 1, 2016 | Failure To Diagnose & Misdiagnosis

When facing any type of medical situation, it is common and normal to rely on medical staff to communicate with not only you – but also with each other. After all, they are the doctors and nurses — and therefore — they should be the ones staying on top of possible complications and treatment. It should not be up to the patient to make sure the medical staff is properly communicating with each other.

Unfortunately, communication fails in hospitals and doctors’ offices more often than most people may realize. According to a recent study, which analyzed nationwide data from 2009 to 2013, this failure in communication — between not only medical staff and patients, but also between medical personnel — has led to close to 2,000 patient deaths and $1.7 billion in medical malpractice costs.

The study looked at a total 23,658 malpractice cases. Of those, 7,000 included communication failure as a component that led to patient harm. Here are just a few examples:

  • A patient with diabetes called their doctor. However, the staff who answered the calls failed to relay the messages to the doctor, so the patient never received a call back. The patient ended up dying from diabetic ketoacidosis, a life-threatening condition where the body does not have enough insulin.
  • After a C-section, a woman was supposed to have her tubes tied, to prevent future pregnancies. The obstetrician did not know, though, about the instructions to tie the woman’s tubes. It was not until after the woman found out she was pregnant again that she filed a medical malpractice claim.
  • A cancer diagnosis was delayed for an entire year after the positive lab result was electronically entered into the health record, but the result itself was not flagged to the woman’s primary care provider.
  • A nurse failed to tell a surgeon that a patient’s red blood cell count dropped and that the patient was experiencing abdominal pain after a surgery. These are signs of internal bleeding. The patient ended up passing away.

Reading through just these four examples can be worrisome. Patients put their trust into their medical care team to do the right thing and provide them with any necessary care. The issue, according to the report, is that medical staff is also facing their own work challenges, such as a high workload, constant interruptions and a workplace culture that follows a hierarchy.

Keep in mind, for patients who experience harm due to malpractice, the work challenges medical staff face are not their problem. Rather, it is on the hospitals and doctors’ offices to adopt practices to provide better care. An attorney who focuses on medical malpractice can help guide patients and their family through the process of holding medical professionals accountable after their negligence causes harm.


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