Many doctors and surgeons are reluctant to admit that they could be involved in a medical mistake that injures a patient. However, the statistics show that medical errors are common in all types of medical treatments and surgeries. According to a research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), hospitals can significantly reduce mistakes by using a simple web-based tool.
The letter is titled “Association of a Web-Based Handoff Tool With Rates of Medical Errors.” The main author, Dr. Stephanie Mueller, found that electronic medical records can mitigate medical errors. Dr. Mueller is an associate physician in primary care and general internal medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.
According to the researchers, “Communication among healthcare personnel is vulnerable to error during patient handoffs.” The letter continues, “Handoffs occur with high frequency in the hospital and have been increasing following restrictions of resident work hours. However, to our knowledge, there remains a lack of rigorously performed studies that help guide best practices in handoffs of hospitalized adult patients.”
Researchers evaluated the effects of a web-based handoff tool on rates of medical errors in adult medical and surgical patients at Brigham and Women's Hospital. They surveyed residents who worked “nightfloat” and “twilight” hours at the end of their shifts. They checked for any possible medical errors and determined how avoidable the errors were. After a few months, they implemented a web-based shift-change tool and continued to survey residents. In total, they surveyed about 5,400 patient cases.
The results were shocking. After introducing the handoff software, the number of medical mistakes was reduced by half. In the four months before implementing the software, they found 77 errors. In the following year, after using the software, they noted only 45 errors.
Patient safety expert, Dr. Robert Wachter says the study, “shows how web-based handoff tools may improve hospital workflow and patient safety, but only if they are carefully built and integrated into existing systems.”
Many doctors used to work 24-hour shifts. While this reduced the number of patient handoffs, safety advocates were concerned about sleep deprivation, which could lead to medical mistakes. Hospitals are now focusing on shift work for residents; however, this increases the number of patient handoffs, which can lead to more communication mistakes and errors.
In a case study of a patient who died after a breakdown in communication, Dr. Arpana Vidyarthi compares patient handoffs to a game of ‘telephone.' “For anyone who has watched children playing "Telephone"—a game in which a message whispered in succession is, by the time it reaches the end of the line, nearly always distorted to something completely different—the inherent potential for error due to signouts is obvious. Unfortunately, the process of signout usually fails to account for the inevitability of human error.”
If you or a loved one has been injured as the result of a medical error, the Gilman & Bedigian team is fully equipped to handle the complex process of filing a malpractice claim. Our staff, including a physician and attorneys with decades of malpractice litigation experience, will focus on getting you compensated, so you can focus on healing and moving forward.