Interprofessional Communication and Medical Error: A Reframing of Research Questions and Approaches

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Progress toward understanding the links between interprofessional communication and issues of medical error has been slow. Recent research proposes that this delay may result from overlooking the complexities involved in interprofessional care. Medical education initiatives in this domain tend to simplify the complexities of team membership fluidity, rotation, and use of communication tools. A new theoretically informed research approach is required to take into account these complexities. To generate such an approach, we review two theories from the social sciences: Activity Theory and Knotworking. Using these perspectives, we propose that research into interprofessional communication and medical error can develop better understandings of (1) how and why medical errors are generated and (2) how and why gaps in team defenses occur. Such complexities will have to be investigated if students and practicing clinicians are to be adequately prepared to work safely in interprofessional teams.

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