Imagine a plane crash in which the co-pilot knew of another plane on a collision course, but decided not to tell the pilot, figuring he’d get the information on his own. Imagine a firefighter knowing a roof is about to collapse, but failing to warn his colleagues because he thought his colleagues were highly skilled and the signs of impending collapse were obvious. Unthinkable? Of course. Yet, doctors treating the same patient for the same condition often fail to communicate and claim to be justified in their intentional withholding of vital information from their colleagues.
The internist refers a patient with deteriorating neurological symptoms to a neurologist, but neglects to convey the information of his patient’s decline because – hey – she’s the expert. When the expert fails to obtain the information that the internist possessed, on her own, the patient suffers. An anesthesiologist and surgeon fail to communicate prior to surgery, resulting in an operating room disaster because neither know exactly what the other one was doing. There is no excuse for such medical failures of communication. Too many doctors see their roles as reflecting the line from Tom Lehrer’s song Wernher Von Braun, “… it’s not my department ….” Communication of vital patient information to other treating physicians is every doctor’s department. The cost in time and money is near zero. The risk of neglect is the patient’s life and health.