Study: Medical communication errors lead to deaths

A recent study has found that errors in communications among medical professionals or with patients have led to preventable deaths.

A medical professional in Washington, D.C., may make any number of mistakes when caring for a patient. For example, giving someone the wrong medication or failing to diagnose an issue can be viewed as medical malpractice.

A recent study reveals another way patients could be harmed: A communication mistake. These errors are highly preventable and, as the study points out, extremely dangerous.

The study

A research arm of Harvard-affiliated hospitals conducted the study, releasing its findings last year. The study's authors reviewed 23,658 medical malpractice cases and found 7,149 instances in which a communication error occurred. The goal was to determine where and how these mistakes happen as well as their effects on a patient.

Key findings

The study determined that in 57 percent of cases, two or more medical professionals experienced a miscommunication. In 55 percent of cases, the error occurred between a provider and a patient. Further, 12 percent of situations involved both types of communication errors. Even more disturbing is the effect that these mistakes can have on a patient. The research found that these failures resulted in 1,744 fatalities.

Why it happens

Researchers cite a number of explanations as to why these medical mistakes occur, such as the following:

  • Distractions
  • Hierarchies and cultures in the workplace
  • The stress and pressure associated with a workload
  • Medical professionals who are unclear about their role

While these may explain the phenomenon, they in no way justify it.

Medical malpractice in Washington, D.C.

Fortunately, people in Washington, D.C., who suffer as the result of a physician's carelessness are able to hold him or her accountable for damages. By law, anyone who has such a claim must file it within three years of the date of the incident. In some cases, such as when a diagnostic mistake occurs, the clock will start ticking on the date that the plaintiff discovered or should have discovered the injury. The law makes an exception to this rule for people who are younger than 18. A lawsuit on their behalf may be filed at any time prior to their 21 st birthday.

Filing a successful claim will entail demonstrating that the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff and that duty of care was breached, such as through a communication error or other form of negligence. Finally, plaintiffs will have to demonstrate their losses and that they are directly tied to the medical mistake.

Proving medical malpractice requires the help of a knowledgeable legal professional who can pull together resources and expert witnesses. Anyone who has questions about this issue should speak with a personal injury attorney in Washington, D.C.