Medical miscommunication increases the risk of harm

What are your rights if you're injured after a miscommunication?

If you've ever spent time in the hospital or undergone surgery, you're well aware of just how many people it takes to treat a patient. Even for a minor surgery, you might talk to an intake nurse, the surgical nurse, the nurse anesthetist, the anesthesiologist and your surgeon - before you even enter the operating room. Several others will likely participate in your surgery and recovery.

In many ways, a big medical team can benefit patients. But, it can also pose one major risk. The more providers involved, the greater the chance of miscommunication. Caregiver miscommunication is one of the biggest causes of medical errors.

What do we know about communication errors?

It's no secret that doctors and nurses are harried. Most have to juggle multiple patients with care teams of varied composition. If the patient is admitted to the hospital, the provider will likely have to hand them off to someone else at shift change. Forgetting to mention even one detail - like an allergy, a risk or a suspicious symptom - can have catastrophic consequences for the patient.

The good news is that there is a lot hospitals can do to prevent miscommunication. A study conducted by a coalition of nine hospitals found that a standardized communication program can significantly reduce medical mistakes. The study asked doctors to share specific information about a patient in a specific order. The doctor receiving the information was then supposed to repeat it back to the doctor it came from. The program led to a 30 percent reduction in preventable adverse events. It is now being implemented in hospitals throughout the country.

When are mistakes malpractice?

New York law sets a relatively high bar for medical malpractice. It is not enough to simply show that a doctor or nurse made a mistake. Instead, patients are required to prove that their injuries were caused by the care provider's negligence. In other words, they must prove that the doctor or nurse acted in a way that other doctors or nurses in the same position would not. Further, patients must show that they suffered actual harm as a result of the error.

How do you prove malpractice?

Proving malpractice isn't easy. In all but the most obvious cases, doctors and nurses will claim that they did the best they could under the circumstances. And they'll have high-powered lawyers backing them up on that claim.

This is why the lawyer you choose matters so much. A good lawyer will have the experience and knowledge necessary to show that the error was more than a mere "honest mistake." They'll also have access to medical experts who can explain the appropriate standard of care to the jury in a way that is persuasive and easy to understand.

A lot of people think they can't afford to hire a top lawyer, but this simply isn't true. At Smiley & Smiley LLP, we work on contingency, meaning that our clients don't pay attorney fees unless and until we recover compensation on their behalf. Call us at 212-986-2022 to schedule a free initial consultation and learn more about your rights under New York law.