Can paging the wrong doctor harm patients?

One of the more frustrating hospital experiences is trying to reach either the doctor on call, or the covering physician, outside of business hours.

And reaching the wrong doctor happens more often than you think. According to a recent study from the Archives of Internal Medicine, “14 percent of in-hospital pages were sent to the wrong physician when that physician was off duty and out of the hospital.”

That’s a lot.

Many times, the reason is communication. Various physician groups have complicated call schedules, and fail to adequately inform either the nursing staff or the hospital. And worse, of these erroneous pages, “15 percent were marked as emergencies, warranting an immediate reply, and 32 percent were marked urgent, meaning a response was needed within an hour.”

Do these communication mishaps lead to patient harm? We don’t know yet for sure, but the resulting delay in care certainly can’t help.

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