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Linda Chalat
Linda Chalat
Attorney • (866) 735-1102 Ext 366

Lack of Communication Increasingly Results In Medical Errors


COPIC, a professional liability insurance company based in Denver, has issued a statement concerning the trend of incomplete patient information, missing tests and poor communication among physicians resulting in more medical errors. And the medical mistakes result in more liability claims.

COPIC, which is an acronym for Colorado Physicians’ Insurance Corporation, insures approximately 80% of all Colorado physicians who require privately-paid medical professional liability insurance. COPIC has seen rising claims from various types of patient handoffs, particularly during the last five years. Patient handoffs include transfers from partner to partner, primary care physician to specialist, or vice versa, institution to institution or during shift changes.

Lack of communication during patient handoffs has been a know deficit in healthcare for some time. A study in the Jan. 10 Archives of Internal Medicine found wide disparities among primary care physicians’ and specialists’ perceptions of how often they send and receive patient information. The study showed that 69.3% of primary care physicians said they send specialists notification of patients’ history all or most of the time, while only 34.8% of specialists said they routinely receive such information.

Meanwhile, 80.6% of specialists said they send consultation results to the referring physician all or most of the time, but 62.2% of primary care physicians reported ever receiving that information. Direct communication between hospitalists and primary care physicians also is rare, happening between 3% to 20% of the time, according to a study published in the Feb. 28, 2007, issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

It’s interesting to note that one case highlighted by COPIC, to illustrate the problem, was that of a 38-year-old woman who detected a lump in her breast and was referred by her primary care physician to a surgeon. The surgeon found no mass, but recommended she be re-examined in one month. Each physician assumed the other would do the follow-up. Nine months later, the patient returned to her doctor with a larger mass and was diagnosed with breast cancer – and the case ended in a lawsuit. I recently handled a case against a COPIC physician with identical facts – COPIC defended the claim aggressively, never admitted liability and required a draconian confidentiality agreement at the time of settlement.


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    Great article, Linda. The source of errors, delays and miscommunications often can be traced to hospitals’ antiquated methods for managing the contact process with physicians. Although department managers and nurse supervisors know about these communication snafus, they usually do not view them as a systemic problem until they are a contributing factor in an adverse event. At many hospitals, no one even talks about physician communications as a process to be improved. In the future, hospital payment models will be linked to value-based care, which is dependent upon effective care coordination, which in turn requires timely and reliable clinician-to-clinician communication. Here’s a link to an article my company (PerfectServe) wrote on the topic: “Connecting With Physicians: The Hospital Problem No On Talks About”

  2. Maggie says:
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    Thank you for your article. It is very similar information to a book I recently read, ‘Life in the Deadly World of Medicine’ written by Joseph T McFadden, which stresses the importance of advocating for oneself and loved ones while faced with any medical issue. That book was a real eye-opener. Maggie R.