Doctors and nurses in the UK have been ordered to spend at least five minutes talking to each of their patients every day.
Latest guidelines issued to medical staff tell them to carry out daily hospital ward-rounds to check on their patients’ conditions.
The advice follows concerns that the traditional practice of chatting to patients at their bedsides every morning has become ‘eroded’.
Some consultants have admitted that they only discovered their patients had been taking medication which can cause harmful reactions with their new treatment after they had been in hospital for ‘several’ days.
One elderly man admitted to hospital became convinced he was dying of a terminal illness because no one had bothered to tell him when he might be discharged.
The guidelines issued today by the Royal College of Physicians and Royal College of Nurses say that daily ward-rounds are ‘essential’ for patient safety and care.
They tell consultants – the most senior doctors – to team up with one nurse on the ward and visit each patient at their bedside every morning.
They must spend at least 15 minutes with new patients and between five and ten with those they have already seen.
Due to staff cutbacks and the higher numbers of patients being admitted to hospital, nurses do not always have time to accompany doctors on their rounds.
But the guidelines say it is ‘vital’ that nurses come along so they can pass on information about patients’ medication, whether their condition has worsened or if they have had anything to eat or drink.
It is also hoped they ensure medical staff see patients as individuals rather than ‘medical conditions’.
Suzy Hughes, chairman of the Royal College of Physicians’ Patient and Carer Involvement Group, said: ‘There’s been a gradual erosion in what I would call a good ward-round.
‘We do tend to miss there’s a whole person there, not just a medical condition sitting in front of us.
‘It’s a time when a trust and rapport can be built between the doctor and the patient and the nurse.
‘Mistakes can be prevented if the notes are read correctly and if the checklist is followed appropriately and if there is a good dialogue between the physician and the nurse.’
Dr Mark Temple, of the RCP’s Medical Workforce Unit, said: ‘There is a danger that busy clinical staff have become too task-orientated and less patient-orientated in relation to the tasks that they are doing.’
He warned that NHS managers were inclined to shorten ward-rounds so doctors and nurses can concentrate on other targets.
‘If you are a manager in a distant part of the hospital you may see a ward-round as something that can be shortened.
‘We’re all under pressure to save money and I think we’re saying that a ward-round is absolutely key to patient care and getting it right will save resources in the long term.’