Communication Errors Go Well Beyond Results Reporting


two physicians discussing radiology imaging resultsThe fastest way to derail a personal relationship is to miscommunicate. It turns out the same is true in the professional realm. The Joint Commission says communication errors are the number one reason for adverse events in hospitals.

Even more interesting (and relevant) for radiologists is a new study published in the American Journal of Roentgenology. It found that communication errors in imaging departments go well beyond results reporting.

Dr. Bettina Siewert and her colleagues at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found that miscommunication can occur at any step in the imaging process. In fact, the majority of errors happen at steps other than result communication, including scheduling, performance, and study interpretation.

Siewert’s group of researchers reviewed 380 studies in which mistakes had occurred and graded the effect on patient care on a five-point scale. Although results communication was the single most common point of error (47.6%), 52.4% of errors arose at other points in the process.

Errors between the radiology physician and the referring physician, as well as between the radiology physician and the technologist were the most common, the report said. Patient care was affected in over a third of the cases, with 23.4% being major effects such as delays in diagnosis of a malignancy, delays in diagnosis and treatment of emergent findings (e.g., ruptured ectopic pregnancy), or unnecessary surgical procedures.

Better decision support
Asked what imaging department heads can do to minimize communication errors, Siewert suggested the following.

  1. Make use of guidelines for direct communication of critical results
  2. Put a monthly performance audit protocol in place
  3. Use decision-support tools that direct the referring physician to the appropriate study

The latter is the main idea behind today’s advanced /communication platforms. They not only help imaging departments design custom workflows and business rules to reduce communication errors, they also enable real-time collaboration with other practitioners to avoid errors.

Just as importantly, their sophisticated results management modules decrease errors by sending automated notifications to radiologists when necessary, allowing physicians to easily transfer tasks to support staff so they can focus on interpretation, and helping radiologists track serious cases that require follow up.

Conserus Workflow Intelligence™ is a radiology workflow automation tool that you customize, according to your business rules, to help mitigate communication gaps and enable collaboration between all users involved in the workflow from the schedules, technologist, radiologist, referring physicians, coders and management. The workflow rules engine allows you to consistently manage a wide variety of interpretation and quality workflows such as actionable findings communication for critical, urgent, incidental, and discrepant findings. Automating radiology workflow helps organizations reduce human error by streamlining communication and closing the loop so that nothing slips through the cracks. It also allows upper management to use the data collected by the system to quantify success and identify issues that need to be addressed.

To learn how we can help you improve your radiology workflow, contact us.

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