Health Advisory

Preventing Medical Errors During Transitions of Care

It's normal to be nervous before a hospital visit, but if you're worried that your doctor will make a mistake during your treatment, don't be.

It's normal to be nervous before a hospital visit, but if you're worried that your doctor will make a mistake during your treatment, don't be.

Medical errors are very rare. When they do happen, it’s sometimes during transitions of care. Transitions of care happen when a patient moves from one healthcare setting to another, such as from the ER to an inpatient bed, from assisted living to a nursing home, or because they switched doctors. If these transitions aren’t managed effectively, they can lead to inconsistencies, miscommunication, and errors.

For example, a patient's records may be misplaced, their medication regimen may be interrupted, or other key details of their care could be overlooked. The Joint Commission, a nonprofit that accredits 22,000 healthcare organizations and sets the standard for care, found that up to 80 percent of serious medical errors involve miscommunication during the handoff between medical providers.

A smooth handoff between medical providers is key to patient outcomes. According to The Joint Commission, one-fourth to one-third of patients who experience an ineffective transition of care wind up back in the hospital. If you know what to expect and prepare ahead of time, you can prevent that from happening to you.

Four actions you can take to support a seamless transition of care:

1. Plan ahead. Have a list of your current medications (with dosage), allergies, and any critical medical history on hand. This way, if your medical records are not quickly transferred from one provider to another, you can supply this information yourself.

2. Ask questions. If something your healthcare provider says doesn’t make sense to you, ask for clarity. Ask questions about your care, and make sure you understand what the doctor is telling you and that you have all the information you need to make any treatment decisions.

3. Bring someone with you. Any time you will experience a transition of care, ask a knowledgeable family member, trusted friend, or health advisor to be there with you for support. When you’re under stress, it can be hard to process what your providers are saying. It helps to have someone with you who can listen, take notes, and make sure you ask the right questions. Also, consider using Abridge to record your appointments.

4. Request that your providers speak with each other. A warm handoff from one provider to another helps ensure that everyone has the information they need. If your primary care physician is referring you to a physical therapist, for example, encourage them to speak with each other before your first PT appointment.

Over the years, the Better Health Advisors team has assisted many people with care transitions, including moving from rehabilitation facilities to sober living arrangements, discharging from hospitals to long-term care, changing doctors after moving to a new city, or arranging for home health care. We partner with providers across specialties and organizations to make the process as seamless as possible. We manage the care transitions, so our clients can focus on staying healthy.

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