Fumbled Handoffs Between Doctors Endanger Hospitalized Patients

Most patients in a hospital are there because they have had a heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure, pneumonia, or suffered some sort of physical trauma. Hospitalists, or hospital-based physicians, must care for and treat numerous patients, often at the same time, as well as collect and interpret myriad lab results, X-rays, and other diagnostic reports. When a shift ends, they must “hand off” patients (i.e., communicate a comprehensive status report and treatment plan) to the next doctors and nurses. As anyone who has been in a hospital can attest, a handoff can become fumbled if a doctor is distracted – including being paged over the intercom, multitasking, or simply socializing with a colleague.

With so many patients “come many drugs and data to track and more opportunities for a mix up,” says Dr. Vineet Arora, assistant director of the Internal Medicine Program at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine.

Up to 80 percent of adverse hospital-based incidents happen because of bad communication, and many of these incidents can be traced back to what occurred during the handoff between doctors. Analysis of medical malpractice cases from 1991 to 2000 showed that inadequate communication was the primary reason why individuals and their families initiated lawsuits. Medication errors, failure to order tests, failure to follow patient wishes for end-of-life care, and even ignoring treatment orders can lead to serious consequences.

“Fumbled handoffs can lead to redundant tests, prolonged hospitalizations or readmissions after discharge, all of which lower the quality of care for patients and drive up healthcare costs,” said Dr. Rahul Parikh, who specializes in pediatric medicine and also writes about medicine for many newspapers and online magazines. “Handoffs are the glue that holds together a patient’s care in the hospital. Yet traditionally they have been a disorganized – even sloppy – process.”

Gone are the days when a family doctor can frequently attend to their patient in the hospital setting. As hospitals have pushed for less arduous work hours for their staff, more doctors and nurses inevitably will see a patient during the course of a typical hospital stay. The failure to communicate treatment plans, analyze basic patient history, review and interpret laboratory results and diagnostic tests, and scrutinize medication schedules becomes a huge patient safety issue.

Many individuals who are admitted into the hospital are in no condition to speak to or update the next healthcare professional that comes to check on them. It is the duty of the healthcare professional to know a patient’s current medications, or consult “family or someone who came in with them, check pharmacy databases, or even the patient’s insurer,” says Nurse Robin Diamond in Today’s Hospitalist.

Doctors, nurses, and even hospital pharmacies should be vigilant about giving each other clear orders and advising when they think a different course of treatment will benefit the patient. Chicago medical malpractice attorney Robert I. Briskman, Esq., sees a lot of room for improvement for patient care, and he understands the needs of individuals and their loved ones to take legal action when their rights to proper medical care have been violated. At Briskman Briskman & Greenberg, the team of Chicago medical malpractice lawyers know how to litigate your claim and ultimately vindicate your rights when a doctor or healthcare professional fails in their duty to give you the quality of care you deserve.

Robert Briskman is a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer and Chicago medical malpractice attorney with Briskman Briskman & Greenberg. To learn more call 1.877.595.4878 or visit http://www.briskmanandbriskman.com/.

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