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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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Reducing Deadly Gaps in Communication Will Reduce Medical Malpractice

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I just read a story written by Dr. Madeline Biondolillo and published in the Boston Globe. Dr. Biondolillo wrote about her mother’s ordeal after suffering a heart attack. Despite several “close calls”, her mother survived. Was it because one daughter was a doctor and the other a lawyer, both more knowledgeable about our healthcare system than the average citizen?

Here is her story:

My work as a doctor only partly prepared me for my 84-year-old mother’s recent brush with death. During her illness, “job one’’ became helping her navigate the shoals of our health care system so that she could survive her medical conditions. If she hadn’t survived, her death certificate would have listed a heart attack and a diabetic emergency as the causes. The sad truth is the actual cause would have been a lack of communication between her doctors.

In the hospital, after her heart attack, my mother’s diabetes doctors weren’t allowed to prescribe her medications or diet because she was on a cardiology unit. Despite good intentions, the hospital almost killed her by giving her 32 ounces of apple juice one day, causing her blood sugar to rise to a dangerous level. To compensate, they had to give her a lot of extra insulin, which caused her blood sugar to drop precipitously. At one point they had to resuscitate her because her blood sugar went so low. This happened because the diabetes doctors had almost no real-time way to communicate with the cardiology doctors. My mother survived her near fatal illness because she had knowledgeable, relentless insiders to advocate and communicate for her.

Some of the most dangerous situations for a patient are when there is poor communication between the patient and their health care “team”. Doctors and patients are increasingly aware that lack of communication, incomplete patient information, and missing tests are leading to significant medical errors. Patients should not need a doctor and a lawyer in the family in order to get appropriate medical care. Each doctor/specialist has information critical to the decision-making of process of a patient, yet often times the system works against us when we try to “connect the vital pieces. It is a matter of life or death that healthcare providers improve coordination and promote accountability, but most of all make a special effort to work together improving communication and ultimately outcomes. It is equally important that patients and family members fill the communication gap by seeking help through patient advocates at hospitals or representatives within insurance plan.

Here are the alarming results of a recent study by the Archives of Internal Medicine:

· 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.

· 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 healthcare providers is rare, happening 3% to 20% of the time.

This trend is leading to a significant rise in lawsuits. These are valid liability claims by the victims, and they are being repeated over and over again. It should not take a lawsuit to force safety changes in healthcare. Healthcare professionals can reduce these legal risks by being more aware of potential communication failures, strengthening that communication with the medical team and patient/patient’s family, and creating safety checklists. Reviewing a safety checklist is an essential final step in transferring care from one physician to another. Checklists are for patients, too. It is important to confirm you have a complete understanding of the diagnosis, are aware of future tests or appointments, and know whom to contact with questions or concerns.

Isn’t it time that all healthcare providers embrace a team concept to achieve the best medical care? Isn’t it time we all speak up for improved communication. It is for the safety of us all.

Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by plaintiffs involved in pending, personal injury litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association as well as their ABA Advisory Committee, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.

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    This blog brings up some great points that are important for both patients and physicians to understand. In many cases simple improvements to the lines of communication between doctors, their staff, specialists, and patients can help reduce medical malpractice.