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Many patients die because of poor communication

Oregon patients might be appalled to learn that many people have died because of poor communication among staff members at medical facilities. A research and analysis firm says that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

According to the research, communication failures contributed to 7,149 cases out of 23,000 medical malpractice lawsuits filed from 2009 to 2013. This 30 percent of cases included 1,744 fatalities, which cost hospitals $1.7 billion. In one case, a man died after a nurse noticed signs of internal bleeding but did not notify the surgeon. In another case, a diabetic collapsed and died after the staff at a family medical practice did not give the doctor the patient's phone messages.

The report also showed that poor communication contributed to 37 percent of severe injury cases. However, researchers say that these figures are likely higher because of the number of patients who do not file medical malpractice lawsuits. The common types of poor communication include insufficient informed consent, improper or inadequate documentation, miscommunication about patient conditions and unsympathetic responses to patient complaints. The report indicates that issues within medical hierarchies, overwhelming workloads and uncertainty about responsibilities and roles are to blame for these errors.

Health and safety proponents have pressed the industry to improve communication since the death of a reporter in 1994 from an overdose of chemotherapy. However, little improvement has been achieved, says the Institute of Healthcare Improvement's vice president of patient safety. In fact, a 2013 report indicated that medical errors were the third main cause of U.S. deaths.

The results of poor communication may include failure to report a patient's medical history, failure to treat, medication errors and misdiagnosis. Patients who have been harmed in such a manner may wish to discuss their legal options with a medical malpractice attorney.

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