Doctor holding a clipboard

An estimated 80 percent of serious hospital medical errors stem from miscommunication. This includes poor communication among doctors and nurses when patients are handed off during staff shift changes in hospitals.

Now a new study conducted by Boston Children’s Hospital shows that hospitals can reduce medical errors by adopting a standardized method for verbal and written communication during patient handoffs.

Hospital researchers went into the experiment with the understanding that even though doctors and nurses spend years training to care for people, they don’t spend as much time learning how to pass on information. Typically, physicians take notes and make summaries about a patient’s illness, but often the information isn’t clear for others who follow them in caring for the same patient.

Researchers looked at 1,255 patient admissions for their study. The standardized hand-off method they followed reduced hospital medical errors by 45.8 percent. The researchers were so excited about the success that they backing the same process in 10 more hospitals.

The study involved training clinicians in handing off patients and accepting patients from other teams of doctors and nurses. They also focused on face-to-face communication and provided clinicians with a better way to remember important information related to patients.

New technology was also a key part of the study, enabling participants to make sure patient records contained updated information. Instead of manual updates that can lead to errors, patient charts were updated automatically so doctors and nurses could keep up with changes in patient status.

Not only did the number of medical errors drop dramatically, but doctors and nurses spent more time talking with each other in quieter places in the hospital rather than noisy hallways. The researchers also found that the clinicians improved their bedside manner, mainly because they spent more time with patients in a one-on-one environment, leading to better patient safety and care.

Eliminating medical errors can save patients from death or debilitating problems. The American College of Surgeons found in a separate study that 20 percent of medical malpractice claims are connected to communication breakdowns. Patient and family errors caused about a third of those and miscommunication by doctors and nurses caused about half.

The Boston Children’s Hospital study shows that many medical errors can be prevented though better forms of communication.

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