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Ben Glass
Ben Glass
Attorney • (703) 584-7277

Communication Errors in Medicine

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Someone asked me recently what types of Virginia medical malpractice cases do we see most? I think that’s pretty easy. The most frequently seen case is one involving some sort of communication error.

This can be anywhere from a miswritten or misread prescription, to a failure to read a CT scan indicating a deadly disease to health care providers failing to communicate because of language barriers. We’ve seen it all. Certainly there have been improvements over the years–more computerized record keeping–more effective software to prevent drug interaction–but communication errors still lead the way. (Interestingly Yale is expanding research into the problem of communication errors in telephone medicine.)

Attorney Ken Margolin of Boston has a great post on this at his blog.

As Ken points out:

Communication between medical professionals in a hospital is both a top-down and bottom-up task. The top hospital administrators, as well as department chairs, must constantly work to understand why communication errors occur and to eliminate the causes. Each individual medical professional must understand that miscommunication can harm their patient, and be vigilant to avoid them.

So what’s your job as the patient? Simple–push… ask questions… make sure you understand your health care. Don’t be put off or intimidated by bad bedside manners. To heck with them…it’s your health.

One of the best ideas I’ve seen when you are seeing a doctor is to compile a short narrative, before you go in, of your present health situation, what medications you are taking, what symptoms you are having, what complaints you have. Ask your doctor to make your narrative a part of the record. Don’t be like many who find, years later, when reviewing records, that the doctor didn’t write down what you remembered telling her. Be proactive.