Patient Safety Awareness is celebrated this month, presenting an opportune time to fine-tune risk strategies to improve patient safety. One vital physician skill is that of effective communication. Clear, accurate and ongoing communication between clinicians and with patients can improve quality of care, lower cost and prevent lawsuits.

Good Communication Goes Hand-in-Hand with Patient Safety 

Mary Stoll, RN, BSN, Senior Risk Manager; Direct: 630.694.5377

In a 2015 report of over 23,000 malpractice claims (CRICO Strategies 2009-2013), communication errors factored into 30 percent of the cases. Of that percentage, there were over 1,500 deaths and nearly $2 billion in hospital costs.

The CRICO report asks some questions that can help outline the seriousness of the communication gap in healthcare:

  • Are you concerned that information you convey through the EHR, or directly to other providers, is not received or reviewed?
  • Do you ever find that test results or reports you expected to have are missing or unavailable?
  • Have you ever been unclear why you are seeing a patient in a consultation?
  • Have you ever had a post-op patient angry with you due to misunderstood expectations?

It is critical that information gathered and shared between clinicians, patients and their families must be done with concern and precision. Communication breakdown at any point during coordination and implementation of care can lead to patient harm.

Ask yourself:

  • Are your communication skills on par?
  • Do your patients leave their appointments feeling they’ve understood their condition and treatment? If so, how do you know?
  • When handling off care to another physician or healthcare provider, are you having the necessary conversations?

Tips to Strengthen Patient Communication

  • Build rapport with your patient at the initial visit by asking them non-medical questions.
  • Look your patient in the eye and listen intently; letting them speak a few minutes uninterrupted.
  • Use open conversation, assess the patient’s emotional needs and use empathy (“Can you tell me more about...?” “You seem really worried.”).
  • Use the teach-back method to ensure patients comprehend and remember treatment information.

Studies indicate that poor doctor-patient communication is a causal element in many malpractice suits. It is a common assertion that if clinicians had only taken the time to foster a positive relationship with their patients, they would be less likely to face a lawsuit, even if there is medical error.

We understand that there are ever-increasing demands on physicians. Your time is limited, but creating personal rapport, expressing empathy, being a great listener and gaining patient trust in your practice can go a long way toward a successful patient-physician relationship.  

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. 
George Bernard Shaw

Patient Involvement Campaigns

The current healthcare climate encourages patients to become more engaged in their healthcare which necessitates effective communication and collaboration among the healthcare team. Two campaigns which promote this patient involvement are Ask Me 3 and Speak Up.

Gallagher’s Healthcare Practice Responding to Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic

Gallagher’s Healthcare team recommends following guidelines set forth by the CDC to maintain business continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic .

Check out the latest resources from Gallagher on our Coronavirus (COVIE-19) Pandemic Preparedness Page.

Best Practices for Preventing Needle Stick and Sharps Injuries

Gallagher National Risk Control Team

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) needle sticks and other sharps injuries are a serious hazards in healthcare settings. Contact with contaminated needles, scalpels, broken glass, and other sharps expose healthcare workers to blood that may contain pathogens.  

Healthcare Worker Risk for Needle Stick or Sharps Injuries

  • Handle needles that must be taken apart or manipulated after use
  • Dispose of needles attached to tubing
  • Manipulate the needle in the client
  • Recap a needle
  • Use needles or glass equipment to transfer body fluid between containers
  • Fail to dispose of used needles in puncture-resistant sharps containers
  • Lack proper workstations for procedures using sharps
  • Work quickly
  • Bump into a needle, a sharp, or another worker while either person is holding a sharp
  • Performing laundry duties when a needle has been stored in bed sheets
  • Sharps stored in pockets/pouches

Employer Responsibilities

  • Establish a bloodborne pathogen control program that meets the OSHA requirements
  • Eliminate the use of needle devices whenever safe and effective alternatives are available
  • Provide needle devices with safety feature
  • Provide sharps containers for workers including laundry areas
  • Investigate all sharps-related injuries 
  • Provide post-exposure medical evaluations

Employee Responsibilities

  • Avoid using needles whenever safe and effective alternatives are available
  • Avoid recapping or bending needles that might be contaminated
  • Use standard-labeled, leak-proof, puncture-resistant sharps containers
    • Promptly dispose of used needle devices and sharps, which might be contaminated, in the containers
    • Close the sharps container
  • Plan for the safe handling and disposal of needles before use 
  • Store sharps containers out of the reach of children and others not needing access
  • Secure used sharps containers during transport to prevent spilling 
  • Do not cap sharps in other employee’s hands
  • Follow standard precautions, infection prevention, and general hygiene practices 
  • Participate in your employer’s bloodborne pathogens training program 
  • Help your employer select and evaluate devices with safety features 
  • Use devices with safety features provided by your employer
  • Report any needle stick and other sharps injury immediately to your employer. 

Exposure Controls

  • Wash needle sticks and cuts with soap and water
  • Flush splashes to the nose, mouth, or skin with water
  • Irrigate eyes with clean water, saline, or sterile irrigates
  • Report the incident immediately to your supervisor
  • Immediately seek medical 

Quiz Yourself

  1. Needle stick and sharps injuries are a serious hazard to healthcare workers. True or False
  2. Recapping needles is not a risk for serious injury?  True or False
  3. OSHA does not require a formal bloodborne pathogens program? True or False
  4. It is best to close sharps containers after use? True or False
  5. Report potential exposure incidents immediately? True or False


Sources - 2015 CRICO Strategies National CBS Report, Malpractice Risks in Communication Failures

The information contained in this newsletter was obtained from sources which to the best of the writer’s knowledge are authentic and reliable. Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. makes no guarantee of results and assumes no liability in connection with either the information herein contained or the safety suggestions herein made. Moreover, it cannot be assumed that every acceptable safety procedure is contained herein, or that abnormal or unusual circumstances do not warrant or require further or additional procedures.

Additionally, this publication is not intended to offer legal advice. Any descriptions of coverage provided herein are not intended as an inter-pretation of coverage. Policy descriptions do not include all the policy terms and conditions contained in an actual policy, and should not be relied on for coverage interpretations. An actual insurance policy must always be consulted for full coverage details. For more information about your policy and coverages, please 
consult your Gallagher advisor.