Data show that a jumbo jet's worth of patients die each day from medical errors, so it is fitting that an aviation comparison was used in a new study of one source of errors--the handoff of patients from one physician to another.
The study in the December issue of the journal Academic Medicine found that unlike among air traffic controllers and other vital safety operations, there are few systems to deal with patient handoff when one physician leaves the hospital and another takes over. The result is that the handoff is routinely botched--the result of poor communication and training and insufficient information systems--with dire implications for patients.
The solution is to teach physicians the handoff process using a model based on principles of adult learning, effective feedback and clinical experience, the study authors say.
"The safest method of transferring responsibility for a patient is a face-to-face handoff, in which the physician going off duty talks directly with the physician coming on duty," says senior author Richard Frankel, a professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine and a research scientist in evidence-based medicine at Richard L. Roudebush Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Indianapolis.
A precise patient handoff from one physician to the next is critical to patient safety and care, says Frankel, who studies physician communication.
"Computerized medical records can facilitate face-to-face handoffs," he says. "Body language and other crucial factors are lost when the handoff is done over the phone and a written handoff may be difficult to read--doctors have notoriously poor penmanship--errors especially in numbers or decimal places are easy to make, and written notes are open to misinterpretation or misplacement."
One can only imagine what might happen if air traffic controllers acted that way.
This article originally appeared on Modern Healthcare's Outlier's page.
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