Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Increased medical malpractice liability for failure to communicate

As we discussed in our previous post, breakdowns in communication between doctors and other specialists regarding diagnostic tests result in many injuries to patients each year. This unfortunate reality has recently been confirmed by a study undertaken by the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. The researchers studied medical malpractice claims awards and communication failures from data collected from 1991 to 2010.

During that time period, medical malpractice payments relating to the three most common types of communication failures rose significantly, by almost $5 million each year. 

The three common errors include:

  • · Failure of doctors and patients to receive diagnostic test results
  • · Failure of doctors to report diagnostic findings in a timely manner
  • · Failure to receive diagnostic test results in a timely manner

Not only did the amount of the awards rise, but the number of medical malpractice awards for communication failures rose by approximately 40 percent during the same period. Moreover, the proportion of the total medical malpractice awards represented by communication failures also rose, meaning that malpractice for failure to communicate has become more prevalent than other forms of malpractice in the past 20 years.

Why these increases? It may be because diagnostic testing has grown as an industry itself, while reliability regarding notification and integration of diagnostic results has not developed quite as rapidly.

Pennsylvania area hospitals, health care facilities and doctors should take these study results seriously and adopt clear guidelines concerning diagnostic test reporting and follow-up with patients. Without doing so, doctors and health care facilities will continue to put patients in the path of harm.

Source: Renal & Urology News, "Diagnosticians Face Higher Malpractice Suit Risk," Ann W. Latner, Dec. 13, 2011

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