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A Failure to Communicate May Result in a Medical Malpractice Claim

You have a medical condition, but that information never made it you. The lines of communication got crossed. Even though one of your healthcare providers ordered your diagnostic tests, the results of those tests were not shared among your healthcare providers. An either no information or conflicting information was given to you about your diagnosis. You may be a victim of medical malpractice.

A communication failure among healthcare providers can have severe repercussions for a patient. For example, a Washington Post article discussed an incident recounted by a retired Washington D.C. internist. During her hospital stay, she overheard doctors delivering conflicting information to her roommate, a cancer patient. “First the surgeon came in and told her he hadn’t found anything,” the woman recalled. “Then the gastroenterologist came in and said, ‘I just did a CT scan; you have an obstructed kidney.’ Then the internist came in and said, ‘We don’t know what’s wrong, so we may send you to [Johns] Hopkins.’ Then the social worker came in and said, ‘We’re going to discharge you to a rehab hospital.'” A simple conversation between the surgeon, gastroenterologist, internist and social worker would have cleared up the confusion and ensured that the patient did not get conflicting information.

Hospital Communication Breakdown
Communication is essential to a patient’s “coordination of care.” A lack of coordination of care, as a result of failed communication, can result in a medical malpractice claim. Coordination is especially important during hospitalization because a patient may see numerous health providers during one hospital stay. Many hospitals have hired “hospitalists” to coordinate the care of each patient. Their job is to coordinate with health providers, so that a patient receives a diagnosis, gets the right medication and the correct plan for patient care. However, failure to communicate clinical data still constitutes an increasing proportion of medical malpractice claims and payments.

Even with hospitalists in place, the failure to communicate among healthcare providers is rising. One of the main problems is overworked hospitalists. Doctors have reported having too many patients. This overload prevents them from doing their job well. In a survey done by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, nearly four in 10 hospitalists responding to a survey identified unsafe workloads as a likely contributor to patient complications and even deaths. In many hospitals, these hospitalists work 7-15 days in a row completing 10-12 hour days.

Legislators are working to address the communication gap among healthcare professionals. According to a legal study at Temple University, School of Law most states have adopted some form of a “Patient’s Bill of Rights.” However, these laws do not lay out a clinician’s duty to inform patients of test results. Also, these laws tend to focus on physicians and not diagnostic centers or third party medical providers.

If you think that you have a medical malpractice claim because your healthcare providers failed to communicate, please contact our attorneys for a free consultation to see what legal rights may be available to you. Our team will evaluate your case and guide you through the legal process.

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