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Communication in Emergency Medicine: Implications for Patient Safety1

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Emergency medicine is largely a communicative activity, and medical mishaps that occur in this context are too often the result of vulnerable communication processes. In this year-long qualitative study of two academic emergency departments, an interdisciplinary research team identified four such processes: triage, testing and evaluation, handoffs, and admitting. In each case, we found that narrative rationality (the patient's story) was consistently subjugated to technical rationality (actionable lists). Process changes are proposed to encourage caregivers to either reconsider their course of action or request additional contextual information. A heightened awareness of the bias for technical over narrative rationality and a better recognition of uncertainty in emergency medicine communication are important first steps toward anticipating potential failures and ensuring patient safety.

Keywords: Emergency Medicine; Handoffs; Health Communication; Patient Safety; Qualitative Methods

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03637750500322602

Publication date: December 1, 2005

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