Handoffs occur as a patient moves through medical triage or treatment. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently discussed the need to improve handoffs to reduce patient risk—and the risk of medical malpractice lawsuits.
According to The Joint Commission, an accrediting agency for healthcare facilities, a “hand-off is a transfer and acceptance of patient care responsibility achieved through effective communication. It is a real-time process of passing patient-specific information from one caregiver to another or from one team of caregivers to another for the purpose of ensuring the continuity and safety of the patient’s care.”
As noted by The Joint Commission, “failed hand-offs are a longstanding, common problem in health care.” According to recent guidance from the AAP, “One malpractice insurer reported that communication failures in U.S. hospitals and medical practices were significant factors in 30% of its malpractice claims and resulted in $1.7 billion in malpractice costs over five years.”
The AAP discusses one incident where an 11-year old patient arrived at an Emergency Department (ED) with abdominal pain and was scheduled for a CT scan. The child was discharged after the CT but before a second physician could review the CT results, which showed acute appendicitis. Because of the discharge, the patient was no longer on the electronic health record (EHR) tracking screen. The patient returned the next day with a ruptured appendix.
Communication is a key factor in successfully handing a patient off to the next provider or for a needed procedure. Transfer occurs through the EHR and through a successful shift of personal responsibility. Successful handoff is critical to the delivery of healthcare.
The AAP identifies the need for standardized processes during handoffs including:
- Facility transfer from an ED to a hospital
- Transfer between units within the hospital, such as to an Intensive care unit (ICU)
- Referrals between specialists or providers
- Transfers due to shifting on-call coverage
- Acute and long-term care transfer between shifts—or when a provider is on holiday or changes employment
In most practices and facilities, the process for handing off patients remains informal. The AAP suggests improved risk management and patient care strategies to raise the level of handoffs to ensure there is not a breach in the standard of care that causes patient injury.
If you, or a family member, suffers serious injury because of a handoff mistake, speak with our legal team about your situation.
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