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When nurses and doctors fail to communicate about patient care

One of the scariest things about being in a hospital is that you have a lot of different people handling your care -- while that sounds like it might be comforting, it can end up being a recipe for confusion.

In particular, when nurses and physicians fail to communicate properly about a patient's care or needs, the results can be tragic.

For example, a patient with some moderate health problems, including sleep apnea, had eye surgery. Kept in the hospital overnight, she was given too much narcotic medication for her pain and her sleep apnea wasn't treated while she was there.

When the patient finally fell asleep, a nurse noted that she seemed unresponsive. She ordered the patient's blood sugar tested and gave her some orange juice, which seemed to make her more alert. However, the patient lapsed into unconsciousness again. When the supervising nurse was asked to assess the patient, he decided that it was just the pain medication taking hold -- even though it had been a few hours since her last dose.

Nobody called the physician about the patient's lack of response. Nobody noted that her sleep apnea -- which causes individuals to stop breathing periodically throughout their sleep -- wasn't being treated while she was there. Narcotics increase the chance of death from sleep apnea because they further depress the respiratory system.

Ultimately, the patient stopped breathing at some point and died -- after undergoing what should have been a relatively mundane surgical procedure.

While there were problems with the fact that the surgeon didn't postpone the surgery due to the patient's current bronchial infection, the ultimate cause of her death was likely the fact that nobody communicated to the nursing staff that she needed treated for sleep apnea.

In addition, the nursing staff didn't communicate their concerns to the doctor about her lack of responsiveness as soon as they noted she seemed unusually difficult to wake up. Had the physician known his patient seemed to be unresponsive, he might have realized that a critical part of her care was being missed -- and get her treated before she died.

The failure to monitor a patient appropriately and pass information onto the physician in charge is a serious example of nursing negligence. Anyone who has lost a close relative due to an incident of nursing negligence should consult an attorney immediately to discuss their rights.

Source: www.rmf.harvard.edu, "Case Study: Failed Physician-Nurse Communication," Debbie LeValley, BSN, RN, accessed Sep. 20, 2017

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