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Conference Focuses on Better Doctor-Patient Communication

8 August, 2014

Academic reports in recent years have helped draw attention to the pervasiveness of medical errors, which can have devastating effects on patients and their families. Even well trained and compassionate health care providers make mistakes, but doctors, nurses and hospitals have been reluctant to speak publicly about how and why particular medical errors occurred.

This situation needs to change, according to Sir Liam Donaldson, who is the World Health Organization's Envoy for Patient Safety. Donaldson recently spoke at the 6th International Conference on Patient and Family Centred Care, which this year was held in Vancouver.

According to Donaldson, unlike the commercial aviation industry, which is known for its constant attention to the risk of accidents, "in health care there is no fascination with causation of harm." Instead, health care professionals are discouraged from communicating openly about the risk of medical errors.

Donald's concern was echoed by others at the conference. An executive with the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement (CFHI) emphasized the importance of open and clear communication between health care providers and patients or their families. Patients and families who are fully informed about treatment plans are in a better position to partner with doctors in deciding on the appropriate kind of care.

Too often, doctors, nurses and surgeons make decisions without the patient's knowledge, and this can have serious medical consequences.

A nursing consultant who spoke at the conference said that, in her observation, most problems occur when there is poor communication between doctors, nurses and patients.

To address the issue, one hospital in Vancouver has created a program, Code Help, whereby patients or family members who are confused about or dissatisfied with a treatment plan can call a special nurse for clarification at any hour. In many cases, the patient's treatment plan wasn't clearly explained the first time.

Patient safety still has a long way to go in the way of improvement. If you have questions about the legal aspects of medical negligence, then our medical malpractice overview may prove helpful.

Source: The Vancouver Sun, "Pervasive medical errors put focus on patient safety, conference hears," Pamela Fayerman, Aug. 6, 2014

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