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New tool for reducing shift-change errors in hospitals

Aug 8, 2016 | Hospital Negligence

Patients in New York may be less likely to suffer from medical malpractice related to shift changes if more hospitals begin to adopt the technology currently in use at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. According to a research letter that appeared in JAMA on Aug. 1, an electronic patient record is a useful tool in reducing errors.

Hospitals have been moving toward shift work for residents because of fear that the 24-hour periods that residents are traditionally required to work might lead to errors. However, more shifts mean more patient handoffs, and that increases the likelihood of errors. Each time a patient is handed off, there is the potential that crucial information will not be communicated.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital used a web-based tool to scan patient medical records and highlight the most critical information. It automatically placed that information into separate documents for medical professionals to peruse. The survey began in November 2012, and the tool was introduced in February 2013. In the year after its introduction, the number of patient errors was cut in half. However, experts caution that the tool should not be used in isolation. In addition to training medical professionals to use the system, face-to-face communication should be emphasized.

While the lack of communication has been identified in several studies as a significant factor in medical errors, there are other scenarios that can lead to these types of mistakes. They might range from unclean hospital facilities to surgical errors. Furthermore, there is no consistent process for gathering and reporting data on medical errors, so it is not clear how likely these mistakes may be. A person who suspects that they have suffered as a result of medical negligence might want to discuss the situation with an attorney.