In order to understand the differing perceptions of information needs and communication patterns of healthcare professionals as they relate to medical errors, we conducted a survey and 5 focus group sessions of inpatient physicians and nurses. Although nurses and physicians stated differing information needs, both groups expressed significant problems with obtaining patient, domain and institution-specific information in a timely manner. Identification of appropriate providers and establishing contact with those people was perceived as the most pressing communication need. All focus group participants felt that communication difficulties were common and could give examples in which such difficulties led to adverse events. Our studies suggest that information needs and communication difficulties are common and can lead to medical errors or near misses. Many of these problems may be amenable to information technology solutions.