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The role of communication issues in medical errors

Sep 14, 2018 | Nursing Negligence

If medical errors were classified as a cause of death, they would be ranked below heart disease and cancer as the third leading cause of death in the U.S. A 2016 study in the BMJ estimated that 250,000 deaths occur each year in this nation because of medical errors. New York residents should know that many of these errors grow out of simple communication issues.

These issues in turn arise from imbalances in the power dynamic found in any multidisciplinary team. For example, a surgeon will have to communicate with the anesthesiologist, a surgical nurse, a floor nurse, nursing aides and others in charge of tracking the patient’s health. Yet doctors may choose not to listen to the nurses out of a feeling that they carry all the responsibility. This is despite the fact that nurses deliver most of the actual care.

There’s also a habit of care providers handing patients off to each other. Important data, if not shared at the time of the hand-off, can be missed or misinterpreted. The patient loads of doctors and nurses can factor into miscommunications as well.

Personalities play a large role, as in the case of a bullying nurse. Different cultural approaches to communication lead to misunderstandings, too. As for how to reduce these errors, one solution is interprofessional, cross-discipline training.

Patients should never be afraid to speak up. An advocate, such as a family member or friend, should also accompany them when communicating with medical staff. In the event that they are injured by a physician or nursing errors, they might benefit from consulting with a lawyer about how to collect damages. It must be shown that the care provider in question failed to meet an objective standard of care, but a lawyer may opt to hire third parties to do this. The lawyer may then negotiate for a settlement.