Prevention is the Best Medicine
How to reduce your risk of a malpractice lawsuit
We live in a litigious age, and the increasing number of malpractice lawsuits is a symptom of that. It’s likely that 1 in 14 physicians faces medical malpractice litigation each year. About 90% of these lawsuits are settled out of court, typically without payment to the plaintiff. Physicians need to take steps to ensure they’re doing everything they can to minimize their risk.
Creating positive relationships
One key to reducing the incidence of malpractice litigation is communication. For instance, many lawsuits arise from inadequate communication with patients over the long-term impacts of treatment.
Actively work to develop trusting, positive communication with patients over time. You can do this through listening, education and open dialogue.
Putting expectations in writing
When taking on new patients in an outpatient setting, many practices ask patients to read and sign statements that describe the conditions of their treatment and establish expectations on both sides. These may include defining the patients’ responsibilities in terms of payment for services, appointment cancellations and follow-up appointments.
Further, in addition to requiring oral consent before a procedure, have each patient read and sign a form that lists all potential side effects and complications. If something does go wrong, having warnings in writing — and signed — can discourage a lawsuit.
Creating thorough documentation
It’s vital that physicians consistently and thoroughly document patient visits. Lack of documentation often is a clincher in a medical malpractice lawsuit — when it comes down to a he-said/she-said situation.
Poor or confusing documentation can have the same effect. Good documentation includes current charts and records. It also should incorporate thorough and specific details about the exact care provided.
Preparing for patient visits
It’s all too easy to get so busy and rushed that you enter a patient examination room with no idea of whom you’re seeing or why. This is a route for trouble. Take the time needed to prepare for the appointment and do your best to review the patients’ files.
This approach reduces the likelihood that you’ll make a mistake. It also confirms to patients that you’re there for them and taking the time to treat them as individuals — not as just another patient.
Most medical procedures and policies have been developed for a reason. If you don’t follow them, you’re more likely to find yourself in a situation that increases your risk of a medical malpractice lawsuit if something goes wrong. Being consistent in your procedures is vitally important. In medical malpractice, as in health care in general, prevention is the best medicine.
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