Patients Suffer When Doctors Fail to Communicate

Emergency room visits can be traumatic for patients, especially young and senior citizen patients that contribute to more than 120 million emergency room visits each year. But even after patients leave the ER, their health may still be in jeopardy. Poor communication between emergency room physicians and primary care physicians can seriously undermine effective care.

The Seattle Times recently examined this problem, finding that patients' physicians rarely contact the emergency room on their own, even if they work out of the same hospital. And ER doctors hardly ever contact primary care doctors to clarify information to discuss treatment plans.

Patients often suffer as a result of this disorganized communication. A study by the Center for Studying Health System Change found that when patients' information is effectively shared, it is more likely that they will be safely admitted or discharged.

Although sharing information may be difficult because faxed records are often lengthy and hard to read, a simple phone-call between doctors can go a long way towards ensuring patient safety. The article suggests that reform efforts may provide the financial incentive doctors need to improve health information technology.

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