Medical errors preventable with better communication

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo & Plotkin LLP

New York hospital patients may be surprised to learn that a lack of communication worsens medical errors in many cases. A 2005 study jointly conducted by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses and a corporate training company found that 84 percent of medical staff reported seeing colleagues taking unsafe shortcuts, and 88 percent said some people they worked with had poor clinical judgment. However, fewer than one out of every 10 communicated these concerns when they occurred.

Medical errors that are preventable claim the lives of close to 200,000 patients annually around the country. However, the culture within many hospitals and other medical facilities is one in which staff do not feel comfortable challenging a colleague or superior when they observe an error.

One potential solution is a twist on the concept of the black box used in planes to determine what errors caused the plane to crash, but this solution could prevent as well as track potentially dangerous errors. An automatic system recording the movements of clinicians would detect when an individual used a non-sterile instrument or performed another act incorrectly whether anyone in the room noticed or not. The error would be prevented, but there then could also be follow-up and discipline if necessary. None of the other medical personnel would be required to raise the issue and potentially put themselves in harm’s way.

A study like this one demonstrates the potential extent of problems with preventable errors and the culture that allows them to thrive. Patients who have been harmed by what they believe to be medical malpractice may wish to consult an attorney to see if there is any recourse. If negligence can be demonstrated, a successful claim may result in the award of compensation for the damages that the victim has sustained.

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