Medical Mistakes Happen Because of Poor Communication

Medical Mistakes Happen Because of Poor Communication

Medical Mistakes in Hospitals are Rampant

Mistakes in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities are rampant. Medical errors may now be third leading cause of death in United States, according to a Washington Post article.

That means about a quarter of a million Americans are dying annually — not from the diseases that are bringing them to the healthcare system, but from bad doctors, miscommunication between doctors, medical errors, or other problems.

Clearly, something must be done. But the answer, surely, will not be found in decreasing the communication between patients and clinicians.

We Need To Ask Patients For Communication and Feedback

Ironically, there are some who are fearful of the perceived negative consequences of asking patients for their feedback.

For example, patients are currently asked, via in-patient satisfaction surveys, to assess the quality of pain treatment they’ve received. Advocates of change have proposed that we stop asking patients to assess their level of pain and how it’s treated. They believe that asking about pain leads to inappropriate prescribing of painkillers.

In fact, there is no correlation between assessing the quality of pain relief and an increase in the likelihood that opioids will be administered. If hospitals and other medical facilities are prescribing more painkillers than they should in an effort to get a better grade from their patients, then we have to improve the way we assess pain and what we do with that information.

Pain treatment doesn’t always mean treatment with opioids. There are other ways to treat pain including other types of medication and non-medical alternatives (meditation, physical therapy, and the like).

Quality assessments should never be abandoned because clinicians don’t know how to appropriately manage difficult pain except through the use of opioids. The real goal should be to communicate more, not less, with patients.

Better Communication Leads to Better Treatment

Better communication with patients, in my opinion, leads to better pain treatment. Inappropriately prescribing any drug, including painkillers, should be considered a mistake — the type of which, as the Washington Post article points out, is killing thousands of patients each year.

Furthermore, healthcare is about people. Patient input should be mandatory at all levels of care. Failure to ask for patients’ assessment of their pain is patronizing, condescending, insensitive, and dangerous. It would make pain the only area in medicine (that I’m aware of) in which input from a patient would be discouraged.

We need rational, compassionate in-hospital pain treatment. Unfortunately, many patients are being denied humane treatment of their pain for political and economic reasons. This is inexcusable.

There is no rational argument that in-hospital pain control would increase if we asked patients to assess their pain and their doctors’ response to that pain. Certainly, asking for patient input should not contribute to the opioid crisis we’re facing in this nation.

This attack on our most vulnerable patients must stop, and so must our misunderstanding about what’s causing the opioid crisis. The problem isn’t that we ask our patients too many bothersome (to the clinicians, not to the patients) questions. The problem is that we’re asking patients too few questions, and we’re not listening to their answers.


Purchase my book The Painful Truth: What Chronic Pain Is Really Like and Why It Matters to Each of Us (available on Amazon) or read a free excerpt here.

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Copyright 2016, Lynn Webster, MD

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