In Maryland, when a person suspects they or a loved one was harmed because of a medical error, they will immediately wonder how and why it happened. Perhaps a doctor or nurse misread the medical information in the patient’s file. Or it could have been due to not paying attention and giving the wrong medication. In extreme cases, a doctor might perform wrong site surgery or even leave surgical objects like a scalpel or a sponge inside the patient. Of course, there is always the simple misstep of misdiagnosing an illness, condition or injury.
Strategies to avoid these problematic incidents include using artificial intelligence and checkpoints with medical professionals working cohesively to ensure errors are caught before they do damage. One recent idea could be the simplest: improving communication. Still, regardless of what medical researchers and experts advise and how those in the medical trenches try to improve their behaviors to make patients safer, it is an unfortunate truth that medical mistakes will happen. Knowing how to recognize them is key.
Clearer language may prevent avoidable medical mistakes
According to researchers, inexact language may be a fundamental cause of many medical errors. Using people from different disciplines – including a linguist – the study authors examined if inexact language while performing surgical procedures can cause errors. They found that using language that is considered flexible such as using the word “little” without being clear as to the precise definition of the word can result in medical professionals simply judging for themselves based on their own interpretation. The problem is in semantics and how different people can take statements in a wide variety of ways.
They say that because surgery is so delicate, being completely clear with the language is crucial to avoiding these types of gaffes. Using video recordings of six surgeries, inexact phrasing was found to have occurred 131 times. This might have caused damage to the patient. Examples include an incision that was supposed to be a certain number of centimeters but the statement was not exact in how extensive the cut should be. The study references technical terms for the use of language to show that the words themselves and the context in which they were made could fall short in clarity. Being explicit is believed to be better than being polite, especially in a life and death situation like a medical procedure.
Communication should be explored after an apparent medical error
If patients and family members have trouble understanding what medical professionals are saying and how they are explaining what the treatment protocol is, then it is possible that the confusion extends to colleagues while the treatment is in progress. It could have led to medical malpractice. This is an underreported issue that could be extremely relevant in assessing why a medical mistake occurred. In addition, it could be essential when thinking about the potential options after being injured or losing a loved one because of a medical mistake.