Improving hospital staff communication may reduce medical errors

Improper communication can result in serious medical errors. If hospitals improved handoff procedures, the risk of harm could be dramatically reduced.

In any potentially dangerous industry, ranging from construction to aviation, communication is paramount. Many of these industries set procedural standards for ensuring that different shifts communicate important information accurately. It is vital that correct patient information be communicated among doctors, nurses and specialists in the medical field. However, few hospitals in Washington and across the country have set communication standards.

According to Modern Healthcare, miscommunication among hospital staff may have resulted in as much as 70 percent of medical mistakes in hospitals across the United States. Patient handoff is one of the most common ways for a lapse in communication to cause harm. Handoff procedures occur whenever hospital staff changes shifts or when the patient moves to a different ward or facility. Literally, the previous staff is "handing off" the patient to a new set of professionals.

Handoff standards reduced serious mistakes

Numerous medical institutions, headed by the University of California, San Francisco, took part in a study that involved medical professional communication. The results showed that errors were avoided by taking measures to improve communication. KQED News reported that these improvements might reduce medical mistakes by 30 percent, which could save as many as 1,000 patients every day.

According to American Medical News, a team of emergency room doctors created a handoff checklist that addressed diagnoses, safety concerns and other common issues. Medical staff was encouraged to talk about care plans with patients and all staff involved. Reportedly, standardizing handoff procedures resulted in a 40 percent reduction in medical mistakes and a 50 percent drop in errors that could cause significant harm.

Just how serious are miscommunication errors? The following types of mistakes could result from medical staff failing to communicate with each other:

  • A serious error in diagnosis resulting from missing or incomplete information
  • Mistakes involving medication if the staff is not told of drugs that were administered during the prior shift
  • Prescription errors if incorrect information is sent to a pharmacist
  • Mistakes involving procedures, surgeries or treatment plans
  • Serious issues if a patient moves to a different facility without necessary communication between medical staff

Standardizing handoff procedures in hospitals across the country may make a great difference in preventing mistakes that can cause a worsened health condition or result in death. Those who are impacted by a mistake made in a hospital or medical facility may benefit by speaking with a Seattle medical malpractice attorney with experience in hospital errors.