Simple Everyday Steps to Avoid Medical Malpractice

We live in a very litigious world. Even when healthcare workers do their best, sometimes patients are not grateful and turn to lawyers for even the slightest mishap. Malpractice lawsuits are very common in the healthcare profession. It is estimated that anywhere from 250,000- 400,000 patients a year develop some type of preventable injury. Today, not only do doctors and hospitals have the potential for being sued, but nurses, clinics, rehab facilities, home care attendants, and other types of healthcare providers face the reality that they too can be brought into a malpractice claim. Across all medical specialties, the average indemnity payment for a medical malpractice claim is nearly $270,000. These numbers are not meant to scare or frighten you from practicing your profession, but making you aware of the importance of patient safety.

However, it is all not doom and gloom for healthcare professionals and they can undertake several steps to reduce the risk of a malpractice suit.

  • 1. Patient relationship: The first step is to always establish a good patient-healthcare relationship. Patients expect healthcare providers to be understanding, kind, caring and respectful. So no matter what the circumstance, the healthcare provider should keep the emotions in check and show respect for the patient. Once patients develop that bond of respect and trust, they are very unlikely to sue, even if there has been some level of negligence.
  • 2. Communicate: One of the key complaints by patients who have been involved in lawsuits against healthcare providers is the lack of communication. So make communication a priority. Discuss everything in simple terms with the patient. Make available brochures and illustrations to explain the condition. When you admit a patient, take time to talk to the family as well and create a relationship. Talent and skill can get you listed in the Journal of Medicine as one the best doctors but if you fail to communicate, your patients will not be happy. Develop good bedside manners and be courteous to your patient. Always listen and provide genuine feedback. Arguments and disharmony usually occur when patients are left out in the cold.
  • 3. Get consent: Today, there is no excuse for not getting informed consent. No matter what service you provide, educate the patient and then get an informed consent. Never assume anything. The informed consent should be on paper, dated and signed. Do not make it a habit of telling the most junior person on your team to get a consent. Take time to see the patient and get the consent yourself. Many lawsuits occur when healthcare providers ask others to get the consent and this often results in failure to disclose potential complications.
  • 4. Document: It goes without saying in medicine, that if you did not document it then you never did it. The majority of malpractice cases are lost because of lack of documentation. So make it a habit of charting everything on the chart; even if you call a patient, note the time, date and note down a summary of the call in the chart. Every patient visit must be documented. In court, if you have not documented, you really have no defense.
  • 5. Keep updated: In medicine, things are always advancing and changing. So you need to keep up with your education. By remaining updated you also offer patients more improved treatments. Plus today patients are also well read up and will appreciate the fact that you are also keeping up with the current literature.
  • 6. Slow down: Healthcare providers are always busy and sometimes cut corners to see more patients or do more procedures. The fact is that the more you compromise patient care, the more likely it is you will make an error that will come to haunt you. For example, if a patient presents to the clinic and the chart is not ready, do not rush and offer a treatment until you have read the chart. There have been many cases where doctors have rushed to treat a patient without the benefit of the chart and ended up treating the wrong disease with the wrong drug. Do not compromise your principles. Give the same care to everyone. Anytime a patient feels that the care was compromised, the next thing you know is you have a letter from a lawyer.
    • 7. Follow policies: Most nursing homes, hospitals, and clinics have policies and rules that are instituted not only for patient safety but for better care. These policies must be followed. If you ignore these policies then you are setting yourself up for a lawsuit. For example, if the clinic policy is not to see acutely ill patients, do not compromise that policy. An acutely ill patient is better off being seen in the emergency room where there are ample staff and equipment, in case something bad happens. If you decide to see an acutely ill patient just because he or she is a family friend or a colleague’s wife, you are setting yourself up for something bad.
  • 8. Follow up: A major cause of malpractice lawsuit is the lack of follow-up. For example, if you make a diagnosis of a lung cancer, you need to refer the patient to an oncologist. The onus is on you to make sure that the patient does see this specialist. Do not assume that the patient will know the importance of timely follow-up. If you perform surgery on a patient, make sure you see the patient afterwards to make sure that the wound is healing. It is not doing the simple things like this that get healthcare workers into problems.
  • 9. Be honest: These days there are a lot of medical information on the internet and patients often develop unrealistic expectations. So the first thing is to be honest with the patient. Do not offer them false hopes and under deliver. These days patients have a habit of going to multiple doctors and then they seek the one who promises the most. Let these patients go, as they will never be satisfied with anything you do
  • 10. Become a patient: most healthcare providers never consider what it is like to be a patient. Routinely doctors make patients wait for hours, cancel surgeries or show up late for an appointment. All this does is create bitterness and frustration and in return, these patients are too happy to sue when things go wrong. So treat the patient with respect and show them consideration.
  • 11. Ask for help: There is so much stuff to know in medicine that no one healthcare worker can possibly know everything. So sometimes you have to swallow your pride and ask for help. Don’t be afraid to refer the patient to a colleague. If you have never done a procedure before, refer the patient to someone more experienced. You may lose a few thousand dollars from not doing the surgery, but this is far less than what you can lose if you ‘lose’ the patient in the operating room table.

Conclusion

Medical malpractice is not a trivial thing. Each year, the total cost of medical malpractice is over $50 billion or about 2.4% of the total health budget. Of these nearly $3 billion is paid out to patients as payout. By the time you finish reading this sentence, another $10,000 will have been spent on a medical lawsuit.

All healthcare workers should be aware of medical malpractice so that they can take steps to ensure that they will not be involved in any type of litigation. While there may be some rare unavoidable situations where a malpractice case is inevitable, for the most part, the majority of medical malpractice circumstances can be avoided. It is a myth that all malpractice cases arise because of a drug side effect or surgical complication. The courts do recognize that medicine is not perfect and there are some things that happen by chance. In fact, in most cases of medical malpractice, the number one complaint is that the healthcare provider patient-relationship was never healthy. So this should be your goal.

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