March 10, 2011

Poor Communication Between Doctors Leads to Medical Errors

by Levin & Perconti

Medical mistakes occur in a variety of forms. The popular image of these errors typically includes mistaken actions during surgery, forgetting to perform vital services, or failure to catch developing complications. However, local patients should be aware that many examples of Illinois medical malpractice involve more subtle issues—like problematic communication between one doctor and another.

The Seattle Times shed light on the problem in a recent article highlighting the disturbing results of a new study. Research out of the Center for Studying Health System Change examined communication between emergency room and primary care doctors working out of the same hospital. The results are distressing.

In short, the two types of doctors rarely contacted one another. The minimal contact held regardless of whether a primary care physician specifically sent a patient to the emergency room or whether an ER doctor needed to clarify treatment plans. The examiners noted that one doctor’s connection the other almost always involved looking at faxed records or electronic records. Yet, that information was frequently hard to read and incomplete. Phone conversations between the two doctors almost always yielded more positive results for the patient. But those conversations very rarely occurred.

After an emergency room visit, follow up care by a primary physician often never includes the regular doctor speaking with the ER physician about the situation. As a result, miscommunication, lapses, and omissions often occur, leading to medical negligence that harm the patients. One primary care physician admitted, “Sometimes we try to piece together what happened based on the handouts a patient gets…it’s that primitive.”

Our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys at Levin & Perconti believe that no patient should be forced to suffer poor care because of these communication problems. A basic tenant of professionalism should involve protocols whereby all doctors involved in the treatment of a patient have reasonable contact with one another. Anything less is unacceptable.

See Our Related Blog Posts:

Some Hospitals Skeptical of Reporting Medical Errors

Patient Safety Awareness Week Seeks to Improve Patient Communication