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Communicating with Hospital Health Care Providers

Written by Harry M. Roth, Esquire

Recently, American Medical News published a report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality that shows most health care professionals working in hospitals operate under the belief that the organization is more interested in punishing missteps and enforcing hierarchy than in encouraging open communication and using incident reporting as a means of improving the delivery of health care to patients.

This report is disheartening in light of successes in avoiding preventable injuries and deaths when hospitals implement policies and procedures focused on improving poor communication. Some of these processes include interdisciplinary training to foster better communication; improved record charting; development and promotion of chain of communication policies involving all staff and empowering the use of that communication chain frequently and around the clock to assure the prompt resolution of urgent issues.

There are those who would argue that the threat of litigation has created a wall of silence; that nurses and doctors are reluctant to speak candidly with patients and their families, let alone with one another and the superiors because they fear ending up as defendants or witnesses in law suits that may arise from a poor medical outcome. The experience from Columbia Presbyterian, (reported in February 2011 by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology) demonstrates such not to be the case. From that analysis it is apparent that implementing processes to assure full and frank communication not only reverses an environment of fear but, more importantly, that patient safety improves, and thus the exposure to medical malpractices cases declines.

The report is important for patients and their families as well. It is fair to posit that an unintended, but unfortunate byproduct of a culture where employees feel missteps will be punished may be adverse relationship with patients and family. So what can patients do to improve the process?

Though hospitalizations are fraught with anxiety for patients and their families, they may nevertheless overcome such barriers by understanding the pressures the health care staff may be operating under. And so while it remains important to advocate for oneself or one’s family member, that communication can be done in a positive, team building, non-threatening way. The goal of every patient and their family is to leave the hospital with an accurate diagnosis, proper treatment and on the road to recovery – not proving that a nurse, doctor or other provider is wrong. Question, ask to speak with doctors, head nurses and specialists to be sure but using a tone that speaks of team work and problem solving.

1. Kevin B O’Reilly.” target=”_blank”>Fear of punitive response to hospital errors lingers, AMEDNEWS.COM. Posted Feb. 20, 2012.
2. Hospital Survey on Patient Safety Culture: 2012 User Comparative Database Report, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, February (

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