Communication Break Downs and Medical Malpractice

January 7, 2019 | Crandall & Pera Law
Communication Break Downs and Medical Malpractice

According to a BMJ study published in 2016, medical errors are the third most common cause of fatalities in the U.S. behind cardiovascular disease and cancer. Making the issue even worse, most of these errors are unreported. Over the course of an average hospital stay, the typical surgery patient is transferred between various departments, eventually observed by as many as 27 separate medical professionals. In the ideal scenario, a patient’s medical history, records, and treatment plan are shared between doctors, surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists and other relevant medical professionals. The stark reality, however, is that patterns of inefficient communication within the healthcare setting often produce a fragmented experience. Medical professionals often work separately to achieve divergent objectives as they make use of unrelated pieces of data or operate without important data in some cases. This form of miscommunication is likely one of the largest factors contributing to dangerous and costly medical errors. The number of medical errors that lead to death are estimated at over 250,000 each year, with that number as a conservative estimate.

The U.S. healthcare system makes communication failure too easy

The disjointed health care system in the U.S. contributes to a lack of efficient coordination between patients, providers, and insurers. As well, within a single hospital in which an entire team of physicians and nurses are supposed to work together, ineffective communication and poor work relationships between professionals can deter effective care. The emphasis toward larger and more specialized medical teams has increased the required levels of communication in order to properly care for a patient. The more communication required, the greater the chance for inadequate communication or miscommunication. Technological advances in electronic record-keeping are designed to improve coordination. But, a single error or failure to record vital data can result in medical treatment errors that are not detected until the patient suffers more as a result.

Add the intense work environment

When a stressful work environment is combined with the life-and-death decision making that occurs in hospitals, the possibility of significant communication failures exist. Additional factors related to this including constant rotations, long shifts, administrative difficulties, and time constraints, all of which can produce interpersonal frustrations. The errors that occur in administering treatment to patients are not surprising in the face of frustration, physician burnout, increased workload, and mistrust that develops between coworkers in certain cases. A study published in The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing in 2015 revealed that more than half of nurses said their patient care decisions were influenced by the behavior of the physicians they work under. This behavior can include how well they communicated about patient care plans and whether they treated nurses with respect. Poor communication between medical personnel is a potentially far worse problem than simply impacting morale in the workplace. It is a large factor contributing to medical malpractice claims against hospitals and hospital staff.

Miscommunication and poor communication

Lapses in communication between doctors and patients as well as poor communication between healthcare providers often lead to medical mistakes. According to MedPro, miscommunication is the second most common factor contributing to medical malpractice lawsuits. A critical juncture in the patient treatment process where avoidable communication errors occur is during patient handoff. This takes place when a patient’s care plan and history is transferred from one caregiver to the next. When this transition is performed ineffectively, serious mistakes can occur, including lost medical records, delayed treatment, administering wrong medication, and potentially permanent injury or death. When the entire scope of patient care is examined from afar, the problems that lead to poor communication become evident. For example, a single surgery patient must often deal with numerous specialists, including a referring doctor, surgeon, lab technician, anesthesiologist, and other specialists. In the majority of cases, each professional operates in a separate environment while infrequently or never communicating with each other directly. Medical malpractice comes in many forms and poor communication between medical providers can lead to serious patient injuries. If you have suffered an injury due to medical negligence or malpractice, our attorneys at Crandall & Pera Law here to help you obtain compensation for your losses. To schedule a free consultation at one of our offices in Ohio or Kentucky, call us today at 877.686.8879 or complete our contact form.