Why Hand-Off Communication is Important

Many people are unaware that a doctor could be tasked with seeing upwards of sixty patients per day. Each patient is entitled to a standard of care catered to their own special and distinct needs. We are then looking at a situation in which a doctor has information on dozens of vitals, symptoms, potential treatments, and other methods of care. This crucial information is essential to the medical treatment of a patient. Unfortunately, this information is often miscommunicated during transitions of care.

What exactly is a ‘transition of care’? A transition of care is defined as when a patient moves between healthcare professionals. An example of this is when you change from a primary care physician to a specialist. A transition of care can also be when a doctor, nurse, or any other healthcare professional changes during a shift change on the job.

Mistakes in hand-off communication are the leading cause of medical errors in hospitals. In fact, between 200,000 and 400,000 people die each year from medical errors, making it the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Furthermore, it can create trillions of dollars in health care costs. This is why hand-off communication is so important. Incomplete, incorrect or missing information can be harmful and even lethal to a patient’s health. According to Medscape, this is especially true for the elderly and those in long-term care conditions. With these patients often visiting multiple care facilities and taking a long list of medications, it is an indisputable fact that healthcare professionals are more likely to make a mistake.

If there is a practical solution, researchers may be on the brink. In a recent study conducted at UC San Francisco, researchers found that when healthcare providers incorporated more efficient communication practices, there was a 30 percent decrease in injuries suffered because of medical error.

To help reduce error, consult with all of your healthcare providers to ensure they have proper documentation of your records and are knowledgeable about your medical history.

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