Physician handoff procedure changes may improve patient safety

Medical errors are a serious area of concern to patients and their family members in Pennsylvania. With the rate of such errors believed to be far greater than once thought, more people are aware of the risks. An instance of medical malpractice can leave a patient with a permanent disability that may require a lifestyle change, such as with a brain injury. For some people, a surgical mistake can even lead to death.

Around the country, some efforts to improve patient safety and reduce the risk of a medical mistake are being implemented. Two community hospitals that are affiliated with Northwestern University are instituting new routines to be conducted every time physicians go on or off duty. Twelve other hospitals have signed up to participate as well and as many as 200 more are considering the program.

At the center of the change is communication. The new guidelines will require that the doctor going off duty and the doctor coming on duty discuss each patient’s case in a live discussion. This is to include reviewing a checklist of what has been done, should be done or is to be expected for the patient. A visit to the patient’s bedside is also part of the procedure. In the December 2013 Journal of the American Medical Association, an article asserts that these shifts have cut the rate of errors down from 33.8 to 18.3 persons per 100 admitted to the hospital.

Seeing that such simple acts can make such a big difference may provide hope to some patients. However, it can also highlight the need for vigilance. Anyone who believes a medical error has taken place may consider talking with a lawyer to understand his or her options for compensation.

Source:, “A simple way to prevent medical mistakes,” Jonelle Marte, March 20, 2014