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Handoff miscommunications a leading cause of medical errors

Within the United States, the days of the singular town doctor that handles every case are over. Much of our medical treatment involves hospitals or care facilities with multiple members on the staff. The surgeon that completes a procedure may not be the one that is available later that same evening.

Although this structure allows doctors to provide specialized care and allows patients to have around-the-clock access to staff, it also created a new window for medical errors. A patient’s chart stays behind when a doctor goes home after their shift, but important details get left out, handwriting is hard to decipher and updates go unread. These sloppy handoffs are a leading cause of medical errors.

A recent study published in JAMA tested a new system of multifaceted handoffs to examine whether increasing the communication would decrease the number of adverse events that occur in pediatric hospitals. The study was conducted at Boston Children’s Hospital using the I-PASS system.

The I-PASS system involves communicating the illness severity, patient summary, action list, situation awareness and contingency planning and the synthesis by the receiver. With this system in place, researchers found that the number of medical errors per 100 patient admissions was cut nearly in half.

Researchers suggested that this type of system could help drastically reduce the number of unnecessary injuries patients suffer as a result of handoff miscommunication. It likely wouldn’t be a burden to implement a similar program either, they said, noting that the participants in this study were enthusiastic, giving positive responses.

Those that do suffer injury as a result of handoff miscommunication or any type of hospital malpractice have the right to seek compensation in Connecticut.

Source: Medscape Medical News, “Program May Lower Medical Errors in Pediatric Hospitals,” Laurie Barclay, MD, Dec. 3, 2013

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