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How Communication Breakdowns Between Doctors Cause Harm

Proper communication among doctors and other health care providers is critical for the care of a patient. A medical practitioner has a professional duty to communicate effectively with patients and peers in the medical field. Communication breakdowns between doctors can cause a harmful failure to convey essential information and subsequent patient harm.

What Are the Medical Field’s Standards of Communication?

Health care providers must have good communication skills because they must communicate effectively with each other as well as patients and their families. If they fail to do so, they can cause misunderstandings that could have dire consequences.

Health care professionals should be adept in four main types of communication: verbal, nonverbal, written and formal. Verbal communication involves saying the correct words and speaking them in an empathetic way. Nonverbal communication refers to proper body language and facial expressions, which can affect how a patient absorbs information and reduce anxiety.

Written communication includes prescriptions, notes, recommendations, referrals, emails and treatment plans written by a doctor. All forms of written communication should be expressed clearly and adhere to a consistently high standard. Formal communication is an overall method that should be used when dealing with sensitive subjects regarding a patient’s health, such as using the correct medical terms.

Medical Errors and Poor Communication

Poor communication among health care professionals can have serious consequences. Miscommunication and the failure to communicate at all can cause a patient not to receive the medical care that he or she needs.

Examples include:

  • Miscommunication of the patient’s diagnosis or prognosis.
  • Failure to understand the patient’s medical record or history.
  • Insensitive or indifferent response to a patient’s experience.
  • Misinterpretation of information by doctors or nurses.
  • Lack of coordination among members of a health care team.
  • Unresponsive support staff due to breakdowns in communication.
  • Failure to obtain a patient’s informed consent to a procedure.
  • Poor communication during an emergency.
  • Inadequate patient education regarding medications or follow-up care.
  • Inadequate patient discharge information.
  • Language barriers that interfere with proper patient care.

Effective doctor-patient communication is related to favorable patient health outcomes and satisfaction with the medical care process. Proper communication skills can also prevent life-threatening events, such as surgical errors and medication mistakes.

How Medical Providers Can Prevent Poor Communication

Health care providers have a legal obligation to use strategies to prevent breakdowns in communications. This may include using standardized communication protocols, training staff members in using specific communication tools or platforms, and implementing technology to improve the exchange of information.

In addition, a workplace culture that emphasizes good communication and encourages feedback can help identify and address communication issues before they cause patient harm. If a patient suffers an adverse health outcome due to a breakdown in communication with his or her doctor or other members of a medical team, the injured victim may be able to recover financial compensation for any harm caused.

If you or a loved one has been injured by poor communication between doctors or other medical providers responsible for your care, contact the Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers at Youman & Caputo for a free consultation. We will review your case and help you understand your rights as an injured patient.