Archive for February, 2016

The Medical Version of “Telephone”

February 8th, 2016. Filed Under: consumer information, medicines, patient information.

Have you ever played the game “Telephone”?  No?  Well, maybe you called it “Gossip”.
“Telephone” is a game for a group of at least 3 people that starts with everyone making a line or with enough people, a circle. One person (Player Number One) starts the game by thinking of a “secret phrase” or short sentence. They whisper their phrase word for word carefully to the person standing immediately to their right.

After hearing the “secret phrase” from Player Number One, Player Number Two turns to their right and whispers the secret sentence onward to Player Number Three. Player Number Three whispers the phrase exactly as they heard it from Player Number Two into the ear of Player Number Four. This goes on around the circle until the secret phrase is whispered to Player Number One, the one who started it all.

When Player Number One gets the final version of the secret phrase, he or she shares it with the group, along with the original version. The fun is in hearing how each word develops such a wacky variation from start to finish that the final version is practically unrecognizable from the first. Traveling through 5 different people, “Peter picked a peck of pickled peppers” transforms into “Pass me some spotted pickles for my pizza.”

The variations you “hear” in the phrase as it is whispered to you are what make this game so funny. The more the original phrase gets bent out of shape, the funnier it gets.  How does a simple message get so distorted so quickly, transforming it into something nearly unrecognizable from its original meaning?

Have you played “Telephone” recently? If you have gotten medical care from more than one place, either from a specialist, an urgent or convenient care clinic, emergency department or hospital, you’ve played the medical version of “Telephone”.

In America, we value having choices. And for most of us, we have several options of where to go for our medical care. Choosing our own doctors, dentists, and hospitals is important to us, but there is a dark side to having multiple options for care. Every time we change systems or go outside our current care providers, we start a round of “Telephone” which opens up the opportunity for our vital medical information to get missed, miscommunicated or misunderstood.

You may remember when your family had one doctor, who saw you at his or her clinic and came into the hospital to care for you if you became sick or injured. That focused care rarely happens today. Today’s hospitals hire doctors to take care of any patients admitted to their facility, called hospitalists. Hospital-based doctors allow other doctors to concentrate on seeing patients in their clinics without having to go to the hospital after a long day at the office.

Today’s medical care system is made up of shift workers. Hospitalists and nurses work in specific time segments or shifts, and when it’s time to go home they transfer the care of their patients to someone else, called a “hand-off”. They must communicate what needs to be done to their colleague coming on shift. Will that new clinician always understand and follow through? Every time a hand-off occurs is an opportunity for misunderstandings and particularly for omissions. This version of “Telephone” can lead to life-threatening deviations from the original plan of care.

Do you or a loved one see a medical specialist, like a cardiologist or urologist? Have you been seen in the emergency room or hospital recently? Moving from one care setting to another is called a “transition of care”. Every time you get medical care from another setting is an opportunity for mistakes, omissions, and misunderstandings to occur.

When 86-year old Jessie fell and broke her hip at home, she didn’t have a medication list ready when the paramedics came to take her to the nearest hospital. The hospital had to piece together bits from her family doctor, cardiologist and urologist. Missing crucial information about current medications or giving the wrong dose because of outdated medical records at a specialist’s office can be devastating.

One of the most critical tools to keep yourself safe and your loved ones safe from medication errors and omissions from medical versions of “Telephone” is keeping a current list of your medications and showing it to EVERY medical provider you see. More information about transitions of care and how you can protect yourself is available at

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