Study Finds Hospital Staff Change of Shift Dangerous for Patients

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A recent study published as a research letter in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that the way in which doctors who are ending their shift discuss patients with doctors who are on the next shift can have a significant safety outcome for patients. The study looked at how doctors in one Canadian ICU “handed off” patients to the next group of doctors. While the study was limited to one ICU in Canada, researchers believe that the practice is “very common,” though not universal, in many American hospitals. 

The doctors in the ICU who were examined in the study allegedly discussed patients according to bed number, and not according to severity of condition. Researchers found the patients at the top of the list were discussed by doctors for a longer time and that incoming doctors had more information about these patients. According to the study, since total time for discussing patients is limited, the patients at the bottom of the list were not always discussed to a similar degree, even if those cases were serious or complicated. 

The authors of this study remind readers that other studies have already concluded that miscommunication (or lack of communication) during a shift change can result in otherwise preventable medical errors that harm patients. Accordingly, the study’s authors are encouraging American hospitals to make simple changes that could result in improved safety. Those changes include discussing the most severe or complicated cases first. 

Our Louisville medical malpractice lawyers hope that the suggested changes help prevent Kentucky patients from suffering preventable medical malpractice injuries in the future.