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Reducing Medical Malpractice From Communication Errors Involving Tests

November 4, 2013

Communication is a critical component of delivering effective medical care to patients. When a doctor or other health professional fails to communicate important information in a timely and accurate manner, medical malpractice can and will occur. According to a research conducted by an assistant professor of radiology at SUNNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, the increasing number of diagnostic tests has placed physicians at increased risk for communications failures.

During the last ten years, clinicians like internists, OBGYNs, and emergency room physicians have been ordering a much higher number of diagnostic tests. These tests include X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs. The purpose of these and other tests is to help the doctor arrive at an accurate diagnosis. Without an accurate diagnosis, the doctor is unable to formulate a treatment to address the patient's condition.

With the rise in diagnostic tests, there is an even greater need for physicians to communicate properly with one another. Proper communication includes delivering the diagnostic information in timely manner. However, timey information is meaningless if the information is inaccurate. Therefore, doctors must send and receive more diagnostic information accurately.

Medical malpractice cases based on communication mistakes can occur in a variety of ways. The most common diagnostic mistakes related to communication errors have resulted in physicians and patient not receiving the diagnostic information, delays in providing the diagnostic information, and lengthy turnaround time. According to the National Practice Data Bank, these three types of communication errors led to $21.7 million in medical malpractice payouts in 1991. A decade later, these payouts totaled $91 million.

With the rise in medical malpractice cases from communication errors involving diagnostic tests, medical providers must look for ways to reduce these errors. New information management technologies are available which can improve notification reliability, efficiency, and patient safety. When necessary, these new systems can also provide legal documentation in the event a medical malpractice claim is made. However, technology is not the only answer. Doctors, nurses, and technicians must also implement policies and procedures to verify each provider has done their job from the time a diagnostic test is order to the time the results are delivered. With a multifaceted approach, providers should see an appreciable reduction in the number of related medical malpractice claims stemming from communication errors.

Sources Used:

Medical News Today, Communication Failures Put Diagnostic Physicians At Increased Risk For Medical Malpractice Claims, November 3, 3011.

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