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The Dangers of Patient Handoffs

It is not uncommon for a patient in a hospital to be handed off from one doctor to another, or from one nurse to another; shift changes, a poor doctor-to-patient ratio, being referred to a hospital, and complications with other patients all affect this occurrence. But while patient handoffs may be so common that they have evolved into an accepted practice, they aren’t always safe. To be sure, a recent analysis of medical malpractice cases found that in nearly 30 percent of medical malpractice cases, a breakdown in communication was involved.

Breakdowns in Communication Endanger Patients

The study also reported that 57 percent of medical malpractice cases where miscommunication was present reflected miscommunication between two or more healthcare providers, and 55 percent involved miscommunication between patients and providers. This information indicates that better communication could reduce a very large percentage of medical errors, potentially saving patient lives.

The Reason Behind Miscommunication

The report further explains that miscommunication cannot be blamed or poor communication or people skills of the doctors or the patients; instead, errors occur because information is not recorded, is misdirected, or is never received. As it pertains to patient handoffs, the report reasons that the greatest point of vulnerability is the “void of information that the current provider passes on” and misunderstanding the information received by the second healthcare provider.

What Can Be Done to Make Patient Handoffs Safer?

The problem of the patient handoff is a huge one. To be sure, a separate article reveals that in the average teaching hospital, there are approximately 4,000 handoffs per day. Assuming that 90 percent go well, the rate of error is still huge, and could potentially affect 400 patients.

There is no doubt that something needs to be done to alleviate the problem. Dr. Lembitz, who is the vice president of COPIC, a professional liability carrier, explains that hospitals and physicians need to relay all patient data when a patient is handed off. If a patient is being handed from a primary care doctor to a hospital doctor, following up with the patient and the primary care doctor is recommended.

What You Can Do as a Patient

The problem is not always the doctors’. As a patient, it is imperative that you take responsibility for the care that you receive, too. When you change doctors, give the new doctor a full report of your condition, and do not hesitate to ask questions. If something seems off to you, say something.

Your Right to Quality Care

You have a right to quality care. If you are the victim of medical malpractice that occurs as a result of miscommunication, you have the right to seek damages for your losses. If you find yourself in this position and aren’t sure what to do next, contact our experienced Philadelphia medical malpractice attorneys. At the law offices of Cohen, Placitella & Roth, P.C., we will work hard to protect your rights. You can contact us today to schedule your free consultation.

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