A recent report regarding communication failures that contribute to medical malpractice claims found that a communication failure was a factor in 7,149 (30%) of the 23,685 medical malpractice cases filed in the United States from 2009 to 2013, representing $1.7 billion in incurred losses.
Of the 7,149 cases of medical malpractice where communication failure was a factor, 27% were surgery claims, 13% were general medicine claims, 9% were nursing claims, and 5% were obstetrical claims.
The locations where medical malpractice communication failures occurred were in emergency departments (8%), in ambulatory settings (48%), and in inpatient settings (44%). The severity of patient harm due to communication failure ranged from low (12%), to medium (44%), to high, including death (44%).
Communication failures leading to medical malpractice claims involved provider-to-provider communication failures (57%) and provider-to-patient communication failures (55%), with an overlap in failures in 12% of the medical malpractice cases. Provider-to-provider cases represented 73% of the incurred losses; provider-to-patient cases represented 43% of the incurred losses; and, the overlap represented 16% of the incurred losses.
For the provider-to-provider communication failures leading to medical malpractice claims, miscommunication regarding the patient’s condition represented 26% of the medical malpractice claims, poor documentation represented 12% of the medical malpractice claims, and failure to read the medical record represented 7% of the medical malpractice claims.
For the provider-to-patient communication failures leading to medical malpractice claims, miscommunication regarding informed consent represented 13% of the medical malpractice claims, unsympathetic response to patient complaint represented 11% of the medical malpractice claims, inadequate education regarding medication represented 5% of the medical malpractice claims, incomplete follow-up communication represented 4% of the medical malpractice claims, no or wrong results given to the patient represented 4% of the medical malpractice claims, and miscommunication due to language barrier represented 4% of the medical malpractice claims.
38% of all general medicine cases involved a communication error; 34% of all obstetric cases involved a communication error; 32% of all nursing cases involved a communication error; and, 26% of all surgery cases involved a communication error.
Nearly 40% of medical malpractice cases involving a primary care physician cite some form of miscommunication.
Medical malpractice cases involving a communication failure were closed with an indemnity payment more frequently than other cases, with payments above the overall average.
Medical malpractice cases involving communication failures between providers are more likely to result in an indemnity payment than medical malpractice cases involving communication failures between providers and patients.
The report cites the following statistics from outside sources: an estimated 80% of serious medical errors involve miscommunication between caregivers during the transfer of patients (Joint Commission Center for Transforming Health Care); physicians interrupt patients between 8 and 16 seconds after they begin speaking (Family Medicine); emergency physicians are interrupted about 10 to 12 times per hour, more often than any other medical professional (Annals of Internal Medicine); 73% of patients have expressed concern regarding the potential for medical errors (Wolters Kluwer Health Survey 2012); and, the average 500-bed hospital in the United States loses $4 million per year specifically as a result of communication inefficiencies (Journal of Healthcare Management).
If you or a loved one suffered serious injury or other substantial harm that may be due to miscommunication, an erroneous communication, or the lack of communication involving your medical care or treatment in the United States, you should promptly find a medical malpractice lawyer in your U.S. state who may investigate your possible medical negligence claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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