30% of Malpractice Complaints Involved Communication Failure

Brenna Diaz

Nearly one-third of national medical malpractice complaints involve some form of communication failure, according to the report “Malpractice Risks in Communication Failures” from CRICO.
In 23,658 of the malpractice cases filed between 2009 and 2013, 30% of these cited some form of miscommunication, either between providers or between the provider and the patient. The report examined communication breakdowns with a focus on general medicine, obstetrics, nursing, and surgery in order to offer healthcare providers and leaders insights on how to improve skills and systems and how to mitigate risks.
“An important takeaway from this analysis is that when a claim has provider-provider communication failures, it is more likely to result in payment than cases with provider-patient communication issues,” Mark E. Reynolds, president of CRICO, said in a statement.
Using the CRICO Strategies Comparative Benchmarking System, which contains more than 320,000 medical practice cases from more than 400 hospitals nationwide, researchers determined that 38% of general medicine cases, 34% of obstetrics cases, 32% of nursing cases, and 26% of surgery cases involve a communication failure. With the exception of surgery, most of these miscommunications occurred in provider-provider relations rather than provider-patient relations.
The highest proportion of provider-provider miscommunication occurred with cardiac, general, and vascular surgery. The highest proportion of provider-patient miscommunication occurred with plastic, urology, orthopedic, and neurosurgery. 
Common communication issues include: miscommunication of patient’s condition, poor documentation, failure to read medical record, inadequate informed consent, unsympathetic response to patient complaint, inadequate education regarding medicines, incomplete follow-up instructions, no/wrong results were given to the patient, and language barriers.
As a result of these miscommunications, 12% of patients suffered low-severity injuries, 44% suffered medium-severity injuries, and 44% suffered high-severity injuries including death.
For malpractice cases that closed with a payment the average indemnity for general medicine cases was $386,000, for obstetrics cases it was $944,000, for nursing cases it was $328,000, and for surgery cases it was $372,000. Claims that had provider-provider communication failures were more likely to result in payments than provider-patient communication failures.
“Communication difficulties are not isolated to providers lacking ‘people skills’ or patient with language or comprehension deficits,” said Heather Riah, assistant vice president of CRICO Strategies. “Every mode and system by which patients and caregivers share health-related information is vulnerable to failure.”
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