In the past, your regular doctor would be more likely to visit you in the hospital, but this has become less common, and now hospital-based doctors, dubbed hospitalists, have taken over those duties. Often the hospitalist has a relationship with your regular doctor and may look over all his or her patients when they are in the hospital. This allows you to have more doctor time in the hospital than your own doctor–who still maintains normal practice responsibilities–would be able to give you. Ideally, this should improve your quality of care, but, in fact, it may increase the risk of medical malpractice.

The reason is that vital information is often not communicated in the handoff from your doctor to the hospitalist and back again. If your doctor fails to communicate allergies to your hospitalist or fails to mention a symptom you reported, it may increase your risk of suffering dangerous complications when in the hospital. Even more likely is that information will not be conveyed on the handoff from the hospitalist back to your primary care physician. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2005 showed that 62% of primary care physicians were unaware of tests conducted while patients were in the hospital but whose results were pending at the time the patient was discharged. And 12% of those tests gave results that required urgent action to protect the patient’s health.

Since then, the condition has only worsened. In September 2009, a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine showed that only 25% of discharge summaries included any mention of pending tests, and only 13% mentioned all tests. Overall only 16% of tests with pending results were mentioned in discharge summaries. In addition, discharge summaries documented follow-up information in only 2/3 of cases, meaning that if test results came back with significant, actionable results the hospital would not know who to contact.

This type of miscommunication can easily lead to delayed diagnosis of cancer or other serious forms of medical malpractice.

If you or a loved one has suffered as a result of this type of preventable medical error, the medical malpractice lawyers at Robert W. Kerpsack, CO., L.P.A. can help. Please call or email us today for a free case evaluation.