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Hospital 'Handoffs' Common Source of Medical Errors

Additional training, standardized process could prevent medical errors during care transition

TUESDAY, Dec. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Poor communication during hospital "handoffs," when patient care transitions from one physician or team of physicians to the next, may be responsible for many of the estimated 44,000 to 98,000 deaths that occur each year in U.S. hospitals due to medical errors, according to a study published in the December issue of Academic Medicine.

Richard M. Frankel, Ph.D., of the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, and colleagues reviewed the literature on patient handoffs and evaluated the process at Indiana University School of Medicine. At the institution, house officers rotate through four hospitals, two of which use a computer-assisted patient handoff system and two of which use the standard pen-to-paper method.

The researchers found considerable variation in the quality and content of handoffs. They identified four major barriers to effective handoffs: physical setting, social setting, language barriers and communication barriers.

"Irrespective of local context, precise, unambiguous, face-to-face communication is the best way to ensure effective handoffs of hospitalized patients," the authors conclude. "The handoff process must be standardized and students and residents must be taught the most effective, safe, satisfying and efficient ways to perform handoffs. Can we afford to spend the time, effort and dollars involved in additional training? We ask, can we afford not to?"

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