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Are Doctors Responsible When an Older Adult Fails to Understand Instructions?

Are Doctors Responsible When an Older Adult Fails to Understand Instructions?

According to a recent article in Business Insider, about 40 percent—or one out of every four—older adults indicate that they have misheard healthcare providers when they are at a doctor’s office or in the hospital. The information these seniors mishear is not inconsequential. To be sure, many indicate that they have misheard “important medical information from their healthcare providers,” according to a recent study. Medical errors often result in injuries to elderly adults, and the new study suggests that many of these cases may involve a situation in which information was poorly communicated, misheard, or misunderstood.

Can physicians and other healthcare providers in Indianapolis be liable for medical malpractice if a senior patient fails to properly hear or understand questions or instructions?

Hearing Loss is Common Among Older Adults

It is relatively well known that seniors tend to have hearing issues. Indeed, a study published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery indicates that “hearing loss is becoming more common among people over age 60. Is that hearing loss connected to patient injuries and to medical errors? Previous studies have suggested that “failure of communication is the leading cause of medical errors,” and we know that medical mistakes happen particularly often when older patients are involved.

How common is hearing loss in older adults? In the recent study, researchers conducted surveys of 100 different patients who were age 60 and older. Of those who participated in the studied, approximately 60 percent admitted to having “some hearing loss,” while 26 percent reported that they already use a hearing aid. Of that group of 100, 43 percent said they had misheard a “doctor or nurse at a hospital or doctor’s office.”

Learning More About Healthcare Responsibilities and Elder Hearing Loss

Part of the problem is that many elderly adults who visit physicians may not have had a diagnosis of hearing loss, and many may be embarrassed to admit that they did not hear a question or a set of instructions. According to Simon Smith, a researcher at University College Cork and senior author of the recent study on elder hearing loss and medical errors, “patients may not have understood what you think they understood.” To be sure, Smith wants to emphasize to healthcare providers that it is likely that many seniors have not received hearing issue diagnoses, and those individuals may have particular difficulty hearing a doctor when they are in a noisy hospital setting.

The authors of the study found that the following often resulted in a senior mishearing or misunderstanding a healthcare provider:

  • 36 percent of people misunderstood a description of their illness or their medication instructions;
  • 29 percent of patients misheard words or full sentences;
  • 27 percent of those surveyed said their healthcare provider talked too quickly, or that more than one healthcare provider talked at the same time; and
  • 10 percent of patients in the survey indicated that healthcare providers pronounced words in a way that made it difficult to hear or understand.

Patients should always clarify any questions they have with their healthcare provider to help prevent medical errors and serious injuries.

Contact a Medical Malpractice Attorney in Indianapolis

Can a doctor or nurse be liable when a patient fails to hear medication instructions properly, though? Or in another scenario that involves a patient’s hearing issue? The answers to these questions largely depend upon the specific facts of the case and the ways in which the medication error occurred. An experienced Indianapolis medical malpractice lawyer can assess your case today. Contact Holland & Holland to learn more.

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