Any number of words can be considered highly subjective; for instance, “a little” or “a lot”. Telling a child that they may have “a little” or “a lot” of ice cream may cause an argument at home, but will likely be forgotten minutes later. However, using inexact language like this in a serious medical situation can have dire consequences. As a Rhode Island personal injury lawyer experienced with medical malpractice claims, Attorney David Tapalian knows that even the smallest of details can be the difference between life and death in a critical medical situation. Doctors and surgeons perform complicated and intricate feats in the operating room on a daily basis. Yet, a seemingly minor miscommunication can result in a patient suffering severe, life-altering injuries, rather than successfully recovering from a simple, routine procedure.
Miscommunication is a significant cause of preventable “adverse events” in surgical cases and a research study at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center looked at the dangers of using inexact language in the operating room. Certain words can be ambiguous and potentially lead to devastating consequences for surgery patients. Authors of the study looked through 319 minutes of medical transcripts for surgeries occurring at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and overall, the publication claims that within those surgeries there were almost 4,000 instances of imprecise language. The surgical teams used ambiguous language over 12 times per minute. In particular, with six of the different surgeries, the researchers found that medical professionals used inexact language over 130 times.
A common example cited in the study was rounding a numerical measurement that should have been stated precisely, i.e., instructions called for a cut “around” 4 centimeters, for a proposed cut of precisely 3.5 centimeters. One sentence that particularly stood out to researchers was “take this over there.” In this statement, two of the words are largely ambiguous and can be taken to mean multiple different things. The word “this” doesn’t make clear what object “this” refers to, and “there” does not explicitly state the location of “there”. Leaving the interpretation open by using inexact, or highly subjective, language can result in a misinterpretation and potential error. If a patient suffers an injury due to a surgical error, they should seek legal advice from a personal injury attorney in Rhode Island who is experienced with medical malpractice claims.