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Study finds controlled patient handoffs can reduce errors

If you have ever been a patient in a hospital in New Jersey or elsewhere, you may know what it is like to be handed off from doctor to doctor. If not handled correctly, switching doctors can result in confusion, miscommunication and oversight that can be very problematic for the patient. Fortunately, some doctors are attempting to change that.

Recently, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study showing that a more uniform patient handoff process resulted in a huge decrease in medical errors. The study found that the error rate for every 100 patients dropped to 18.3 from 33.8 after the new program was implemented.

Physicians working on this study made three major changes to the patient handoff process in an effort to reduce errors. First, hospital workers were trained on proper handoff procedure. They learned best practices for both the written and verbal aspects of a patient handoff. Next, they were given a mnemonic to help commit the process to memory. Finally, they changed the atmosphere of patient handoffs. There was an authority figure present at each handoff, and they were conducted in quiet, private spaces.

This new process was tested over a yearlong period. Not only did medical errors overall decrease, but the rate of preventable adverse events also dropped. Participants also found that the new handoff process helped ensure that all important information about the patient was transferred to the new doctor.

It is reassuring to see that doctors and hospitals are open change when it is best for the patient. Hopefully hospitals in New Jersey will consider implementing a similar program to ensure patient safety.

Source: Renal & Urology News, "Study: Better Handoff in Hospitals Decreases Medical Error Rate," Ann W. Latner, Jan. 9, 2014

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Alan D. Bell
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