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Communication Breakdowns During Hospital Shift Changes Cause Patient Injuries

One of the most critical aspects to care in a medical environment is communication. Not only is it important for healthcare providers and medical staff to communicate with the patient, communication between personnel in a hospital environment is critical to a quality standard of care. One of the most dangerous times for patients may be during a shift change, when personnel are rotating out. A miscommunication or failure at this point can result in patients suffering harm as a result—and it may be grounds for a medical malpractice case.

Here’s what you should know about shift change medical malpractice, and how you can get legal help if you’ve been hurt.

Medical Malpractice in a Hospital Setting

When a set of staff in a hospital setting rotates out at the end of a shift and a new group comes in, it’s generally expected that there is a procedure in place to facilitate the transfer. This transition period is often called the “handoff.” During this time, both written and verbal communication between the two groups of staff should happen. Doctors, nurses, and otherHospital Shift Changes Can Lead to Medical Malpractice personnel must coordinate during this time and share urgent issues, test results, recommendations, timeframes, and other critical patient care information.

If the handoff procedures aren’t well understood or followed correctly by the staff, or if good policies simply don’t exist, patients can “fall through the cracks” between shifts. When this happens, it’s possible for patients with serious illnesses that need to be cared for quickly to end up waiting far longer than they should—and the health consequences can be severe. A 2015 Wall Street Journal article points out that something as simple as not having nurses in the patient’s room during shift change may result in more patient fall injuries, as well as issues with IV lines and catheters.

Some of the issues that could result from miscommunication in a hospital setting may include the following:

  • Delay in treatment. If the prior shift never communicates that an urgent patient issue is present, doctors and nurses may never see that patient until it’s too late. In one 2015 article on the topic, a patient succeeded in a malpractice claim after a six-hour delay resulted in a limb amputation that could have been avoided.
  • Improper treatment. Failure to communicate a patient’s condition or needs may result in the wrong treatment being given for the condition, such as a necessary adjustment to an IV drip, oxygen, or other vital point of care.
  • Medication errors. If a patient’s medication needs or history aren’t shared with the incoming staff, doses may be missed, medicine may be administered more than it should be, or the wrong medication may even be given.
  • Worsening conditions. When a sick patient “slips through the cracks,” the right level of care may not be given, and any gradual or sudden shift in condition may be missed—since nobody is checking in on the patient’s status regularly to ensure that the problem isn’t getting worse.

While not every mistake or poor outcome is medical malpractice, when a healthcare provider fails to uphold the standard of care of his or her profession and a patient suffers preventable harm as a result, the patient may be able to pursue compensation for the injury.

Texas Medical Malpractice Limits

Medical malpractice is a complicated area of law, and Texas places certain limits on recovery. There are certain economic damages, such as the costs of your health care, follow-up procedures or revision surgeries, and other real expenses related to the injury that are not capped, and you can recover the full amount of your losses.

However, non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, are capped by state law to $250,000 for individual providers and $250,000 for hospitals, to a total of $500,000. Very rarely, punitive damages may be awarded, but these are also capped at either $200,000, or twice the amount of economic and non-economic damages added together, to a maximum of $750,000—whichever amount is greater.

Get Legal Help Today

If you or a loved one have suffered harm due to medical malpractice, the attorneys at Wayne Wright LLP are here to serve you. Our legal team has been standing up for the rights of injured patients and their families for decades, and we want to help you get the justice you deserve in a court of law. Call us by phone, use our online contact form to send an email, or click the live chat box on this page right now to arrange your free, no-obligation consultation with us today.