National data suggest that up to 70 percent of sentinel events—the most serious errors in hospitals—stem at least in part from miscommunications. Communication problems are especially apt to occur during hospital shift changes, when a patient’s care is transferred to incoming doctors and nurses—known in health care as the “handoff.”
More than a year ago, a team led by Amy Starmer, MD, MPH, of the Division of General Pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital, developed and began testing a bundle of interventions to ensure that the hospital’s residents were thoroughly and accurately briefed on each patient’s medical history, status and treatment plan in a standardized way.
Through measures such as communications training, a mnemonic to help residents remember key information to pass on and a computerized handoff tool that integrated with the patient’s electronic medical record, they managed to move the needle: Medical errors fell by 40 percent—from 32 percent of admissions at baseline to 19 percent of admissions three months after the program started.
But that wasn’t all. …