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Like a fumble in football when the quarterback fails to get the ball squarely in his running back’s hands, fumbles occur also in the medical setting, and when they do, the results are often equally game-changing.
Hand off errors are responsible or were a major contributing factor in approximately 80% of all serious medical errors according to the Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. As anyone who has been admitted to the hospital knows, you are often visited by numerous doctors or other health care providers. When these healthcare providers fail to document something in your records, or when they fail to communicate with the other people involved in your care, important treatment can go undelivered and dangerous diagnoses can go unnoticed.
A common problem in medical hand off errors occurs between a person’s medical specialists (e.g., neurologists, dermatologists, surgeons) and a person’s family medicine physician. Family medicine physicians often treat a wide range of illnesses. However, sometimes they must send a person to medical specialists to rely upon their focused and in-depth knowledge of a particular area of medicine. Contrary to many people’s belief, when specialists treat a patient, they usually are only directly concerned with problem that was referred to them to evaluate. For example, if a surgeon is evaluating you for a hernia repair, but sees a mass on your liver in a pre-surgery radiographic scan, the surgeon may not tell you directly about the issue, counsel you about treatment options, or provide you any treatment. Yet, the surgeon is required to tell your family medicine doctor, the doctor responsible for coordinating your overall healthcare, so that you can be given appropriate treatment. However, sometimes a doctor like the surgeon in my example drops the ball and does not tell your primary doctor or provide him or her with the concerning radiographic scan. When this happens, often the tumor goes undiagnosed and untreated until it is too late. As is easily seen, such a small miscommunication can have tremendous, and sometimes fatal, consequences for patients.
Unlike football, medicine is not a game – it is life or death. If you or a loved one has been the victims of a medical hand off error, contact the medical malpractice attorneys at Manchin Injury Law Group, PLLC. We are always here to help and the consultation is free.