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Medical miscommunication kills patients

New Jersey patients may be dismayed to learn that miscommunication among health care professionals results in a significant amount of patient fatalities, according to a report that has been published by a medical safety research firm. The report also found that such poor communication is responsible for a high percentage of severe injury cases as well.

Researchers in the study examined 23,000 medical malpractice claims filed between 2009 and 2013. They found that communication problems were contributing factors in approximately 30 percent of the claims and resulted in more than 1,700 fatalities. Such miscommunication also was involved in 37 percent of severe injury claims and that it cost hospitals around $1.7 billion over that period. According to the study, common communications problems include miscommunication about a patient's status, incomplete documentation, inadequate informed consent and the mishandling of patient complaints.

Health care communication has been a top issue for patient safety advocates since a Boston Globe reporter died from an overdose of chemotherapy drugs in 1994. However, the study indicates that little progress has been made since that incident. For instance, the report details the case of a diabetic patient who collapsed and died after office staff failed to give the primary doctor the patient's phone messages. In another case, a surgical patient died after a nurse noticed he was bleeding internally but failed to tell the surgeon. According to the report, factors such as unclear roles and responsibilities among medical staff and crushing workloads contribute to communication problems.

In many cases, such as wrong-site surgery, medical negligence can be preventable by improved communication among the doctors and hospital staff. However, these mistakes continue to be made, and victims and their family members often seek the assistance of a medical malpractice attorney when seeking recourse for the harm they have suffered.

Source: Fierce Healthcare, "Healthcare miscommunication cost $1.7B--and nearly 2,000 lives," Zack Budryk, Feb. 1, 2016

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