Communication in emergency medicine: Implications for patient safety

Eric M. Eisenberg*, Alexandra G. Murphy, Kathleen Sutcliffe, Robert Wears, Stephen Schenkel, Shawna Perry, Mary Vanaerhoef

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

164 Citations (Scopus)


Emergency medicine is largely a communicative activity, and medical mishaps that occur in this context are too often the result of vulnerable communication processes. In this year-long qualitative study of two academic emergency departments, an interdisciplinary research team identified four such processes: triage, testing and evaluation, handoffs, and admitting. In each case, we found that narrative rationality (the patient's story) was consistently subjugated to technical rationality (actionable lists). Process changes are proposed to encourage caregivers to either reconsider their course of action or request additional contextual information. A heightened awareness of the bias for technical over narrative rationality and a better recognition of uncertainty in emergency medicine communication are important first steps toward anticipating potential failures and ensuring patient safety.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)390-413
Number of pages24
JournalCommunication Monographs
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Emergency Medicine
  • Handoffs
  • Health Communication
  • Patient Safety
  • Qualitative Methods


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