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Preventing Medical Errors Caused By Miscommunication

Miscommunication plays a role in approximately 80 percent of the most serious medical errors that occur in U.S. hospitals, such as delays in diagnosis, preventable surgical complications, and medication overdoses. Many of the mistakes occur when patients are handed off from one healthcare provider to another.

To reduce the risk of miscommunication, hospitals are working to develop new procedures, particularly during shift changes. As detailed in a recent study, some have shown to be very promising.

When implemented in nine hospitals, the I-PASS system reduced injuries from medical errors by 30 percent. The mnemonic is intended to help health-care workers remember steps for properly communicating important patient information during a shift change. I-PASS stands for illness severity, patient summary, action list, situational awareness and contingency planning, and synthesis by receiver.

“Miscommunications and handoff errors are two of the most significant causes of medical errors in hospitals in the U.S.,” senior author Christopher Landrigan, MD, MPH, from Boston Children’s Division of General Pediatrics, stated. “This is the first multicenter handoff improvement program that has been found to reduce injuries due to medical errors.”

In addition to reducing medical mistakes, the study found that using the I-PASS system did not add time to patient handoffs or decrease time spent at other patient tasks. In addition, the researchers noted significant improvements in residents’ verbal and written communications at every hospital studied.

As San Diego medical malpractice lawyers, we are encouraged by the results of the study. We are hopeful that similar systems can be implemented across the country to reduce the risk of preventable medical errors.