As a medical malpractice lawyer, Mishkind Kulwicki Law Co., L.P.A. will review medical journals on an ongoing basis in order to stay current on medical standards of care. After all, medical negligence is defined as medical care that falls below accepted standards of medical care. These standards can sometimes be found in professional guidelines, recommendations or consensus statements. When black-and-white, one-size-fits-all practice guidelines do not apply to a specific case, medical malpractice lawyers look to general principles of safe medical care and what a reasonably careful doctor or nurse would do under like or similar circumstances. Using these definitions, it is important to understand that the terms medical error, medical mistake, medical malpractice and medical negligence all have the same meaning, i.e., that a doctor, nurse, CRNA or healthcare professional fell below accepted standards of care that apply to their specialty.
One source of medical and nursing standards is the Sentinel Event Alerts published by the Joint Commission. The Joint Commission, or “TJC” to hospital insiders, is a non-profit organization that certifies hospitals as being in compliance with its regulations Virtually every hospital is TJC-certified. However, the TJC standards are often loosely applied and compliance is relatively easy to obtain. This is a classic case of self-regulation, where the hospitals are the foxes guarding the henhouse.
TJC Sentinel Event Alerts can contain important updates in a wide array of hospital practices. The alerts arise by virtue of the TJC audits that reveal recurrent problems in hospital management. One recent Alert deals with so-called “hand-off errors.” Per the Alert, a hand-off is “a transfer and acceptance of patient care responsibility achieved through effective communication.” Hand off errors occur when important information about the patient is not communicated. According to the Alert, “failed hand-offs are a longstanding, common problem in health care.”
Some examples of hand-off errors involve shift changes. When one nurse goes home for the day and another R.N. takes his/her place, the standard of care requires the off-going nurse to give “report,” which is a rundown of his/her patients’ needs. As hospitals continually understaff and de-skill their nursing staff in the quest for profits, it often leaves nurses with inadequate time to give a full, in-person report. The TJC Alert recommends that the content of hand off information be standardized to include an assessment of the severity of each patients’ illnesses, a patient summary, a “to do” list, an allergy list, a medication list, dated lab results and dated vital signs. The Alert also suggest face-to-face report.
Unfortunately, as greedy hospital systems continue to cut staff and cut corners on other standards of safe medical care, the risk of hand off errors has not diminished. If you or a loved one sustain severe personal injury or wrongful death in a hospital setting, you should contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible. Time limits may apply.