November 29, 2011

Failure of Communication Increases Risk of Malpractice

This is a study everyone should be aware of and not just the doctors even though it is directed at them. The first sentence of the article states, “Failure to communicate diagnostic test results increasingly puts physicians at greater risk for medical malpractice claims, researchers report in the November issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology (JACR).”

Then they go on to say “taking advantage of available "semiautomated critical test result management systems" could improve patient safety, shorten hospital stays, and reduce risk by providing legal documentation.” This is clearly saying communications can lower your malpractice claims, and doctors need to start communicating with their patients.

When US malpractice payouts including all medical specialties related to communications failures, yes, communications failures increased from $21.7 million in 1991 to 91 million in 2009, this means that doctors should take notice and start communicating. What types of communications does the study identify? The study states that miscommunication or non-communication among physicians and failure of physicians to instruct or communicate with patients or families. This would seem to include all necessary communications.

The authors point out that part of the problem is the large increase in the number of diagnostic tests ordered by physicians over the last decade and cited a 2010 paper in the journal Radiology titled, “Addressing Overutilization of Medical Imaging.” In that paper, they stated that the use of defensive medicine to avoid malpractice claims a reason for the increase of diagnostic tests.

Then the authors went on to say that modern technology including improved diagnostic methods, the Internet, numerous new communication channels may have raised the bar for societies expectations for communication of medical data. This is true in so many ways as patients are learning that maintaining test results records and watching trends on test results for warnings of declining health conditions or the steady numbers of good health become more valuable for patients.

As patients, we need to hold the physicians' feet to the fire and make them communicate with their fellow physicians and us. I am not saying let them not communicate and then sue, but to force them to communicate and make a habit of communicating for our well being and the well being of our fellow patients.

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