Lack of Communication Increasingly Results In Medical Errors

Professional liability insurance companies have recently issued statements concerning the trend of incomplete patient information, missing tests and poor communication among physicians resulting in more medical errors. And the medical mistakes result in more medical negligence and liability claims.

Professional insurance corporations are known to insure up to 100 % of physicians statewide who require privately-paid medical professional liability insurance. Rising claims have been seen from various types of patient handoffs, particularly during the last five years. Patient handoffs include transfers from partner to partner, primary care physician to specialist, or vice versa, institution to institution or during shift changes.

Lack of communication during patient handoffs has been a known deficit in healthcare for some time. A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found wide disparities among primary care physicians’ and specialists’ perceptions of how often they send and receive patient information. The study showed that 69.3% of primary care physicians said they send specialists notification of patients’ history all or most of the time, while only 34.8% of specialists said they routinely receive such information.

Meanwhile, 80.6% of specialists said they send consultation results to the referring physician all or most of the time, but 62.2% of primary care physicians reported ever receiving that information. Direct communication between hospitalists and primary care physicians also is rare, happening between 3% to 20% of the time according to a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

A case all too common was recently highlighted to illustrate the problem – A 38-year-old woman who detected a lump in her breast was referred by her primary care physician to a surgeon. The surgeon found no mass, but recommended she be re-examined in one month. Each physician assumed the other would do the follow-up. Nine months later, the patient returned to her doctor with a larger mass and was diagnosed with breast cancer – and the case ended in a medical malpractice lawsuit.  

Legal Nurse Consultant is a medical expert assisting attorneys in meticulously navigating medical-legal cases. Please contact Kathleen A. Mary, RN, Certified Legal Nurse Consultant with your next medical negligence case.


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