Mishkind Kulwicki Law recently settled a case involving medical errors that occurred when a patient was transferred from one facility to another. We often see mistakes made at this critical time. In fact, physicians have a name for this common type of error: “hand-off error.” Typically, the error occurs when key information about the patient is not communicated between providers. Sometimes this information involves patient acuity, diagnoses that have not been ruled out, or key facts about the patient’s condition or medical history.
On the heels of our settlement, I read an article in the journal called Health Affairs called “Improving Care Transitions” that addresses ways to improve patient transfers. Not only do hand-off errors put patients at risk, they also are “responsible for $25 to $45 billion in wasteful spending in 2011 through avoidable complications and unnecessary hospital readmissions,” according to the article.
The article identifies a number of root causes of medical errors in this setting, including: (1) patients are given inadequate information to advocate for themselves; (2) primary care providers are not informed about hospital admissions; (3) inconsistent follow up after hospital discharge; and (4) inability for physicians from one facility to review medical records from another facility. You can read more here: http://healthaffairs.org/healthpolicybriefs/brief.php?brief_id=76.
Under Ohio law, hand-off errors that cause harm to a patient may form the basis for a medical negligence case, particularly when the hand-off error results in a delayed diagnosis of a serious ailment. In our case, a patient was transferred from a nursing home to a hospital but hospital personnel were given only part of the patient’s story. This led to a delay in treatment, and the patient died. The terms of the settlement are confidential.