Cost of communication failures in healthcare settings: 5 study findings

When information is unrecorded, misdirected, never received, never retrieved or ignored in healthcare, patients can be adversely effected. A recent report — "Malpractice Risks in Communication Failures: 2015 Annual Benchmarking Report" — highlights the financial consequences of these communication failures.

The report was published by CRICO Strategies, a division of the Risk Management Foundation of the Harvard Medical Institutions. This year, CRICO Strategies published its comparative benchmarking report on how specific weaknesses in communication impact patient safety.

For the 2015 report, CRICO analyzed more than 23,000 medical malpractice claims and lawsuits filed between 2009 and 2013 in which a patient experienced some degree of harm.

Here are five findings gathered from the report data:

1. Of the cases analyzed, roughly one-third (or 7,149 cases) involved a breakdown in communication somewhere across the spectrum of healthcare services and settings. The total incurred losses related to these cases were estimated to be about $1.7 billion.

2. Most of the communication failures identified in the report occurred in surgery (27 percent), general medicine (13 percent), nursing (9 percent) or obstetrics (5 percent) cases. Communication breakdowns also occurred in anesthesiology, emergency medicine and radiology, though not as frequently.

3. Communication failures occurred most often in ambulatory settings (48 percent), followed by inpatient settings (44 percent) and the emergency department (8 percent).

4. More than one-third (37 percent) of all high-severity injury cases involved a breakdown in communication. Of the 7,149 cases involving these communication failures, approximately 1,700 cases involved a patient death.

5. Fifty-seven percent of the communication failures identified occurred between providers and 55 percent occurred between providers and patients, meaning 12 percent involved both provider-provider and provider-patient communication errors.

"Across all specialties and care delivery settings, miscommunication begets misinformation," according to the report. "If the systems that providers rely on to alert them to information gaps or discrepancies are inadequate, then misinformation can lead to mismanaged care, unmet expectations and patient harm."



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