Medical malpractice suits are filed every day, all around the country, by patients who were either harmed while receiving medical care, or who feel that they were. Most physicians, over the course of a career, will be named in at least one lawsuit, the vast majority of which are dismissed or settled out of court. Almost all healthcare providers carry professional liability insurance intended to cover them financially in the event of a suit. But, just as we all have auto insurance that we hope we never need to use, doctors hope never to receive the dreaded notification that they’re being sued. When it comes to malpractice, prevention is the name of the game. Here are three common sense ways to help reduce the risk of having your practice embroiled in the legal system.
Document. In the world of medical malpractice it’s often said that, “if it wasn’t documented, it wasn’t done.” When defending a malpractice case, what’s written – or not written – in the medical record is critical. Doctors, of course, are trained to document all of the pertinent details related to a patient’s diagnosis and treatment. Staff members also need to be cognizant of documenting details such as prescriptions that are called in, appointments that are missed, and follow-up reminders that are sent to patients. Be extra careful when your practice needs to terminate a patient’s care; failure to provide proper notice can be construed as abandonment.
Create foolproof systems. If a doctor orders a diagnostic study (x-ray, lab work, etc.) it’s critically important for the practice to have a system in place to track whether patients actually follow through with having the testing done, to make sure the results are received back into the office, and finally to ensure that patients are notified of the results. When the system breaks down at any point in this chain of events, it can leave your practice open to liability risk, not to mention potentially resulting in poor patient care. For example, let’s say a woman finds a breast lump and is instructed by her doctor to get a mammogram. She has the test, but the results suggesting that a follow-up ultrasound or biopsy is needed never make it back to your office. The woman, hearing nothing, assumes all is well. Six months later she’s diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. Guess who gets sued?
Be respectful. Patients who file lawsuits against their doctors often do so not because an injury they suffered during the course of care was actually so terrible, but because they feel they were ignored, not taken seriously, or in some other way disrespected. Imagine that you had a minor surgical procedure and developed a post-operative infection. It happens, right? If you like and trust your doctor and his or her staff is always friendly, helpful, and compassionate, you probably aren’t going to call a lawyer to rant about the injustice of getting an infection. But if the doctor had been condescending and the staff had been rude or dismissive over the course of your treatment, all of a sudden that infection breeds anger and discontent – and potentially a lawsuit.
Check with your malpractice insurance carrier for more education on how to avoid a lawsuit in your practice. Most companies have a great deal of information onf the subject that they encourage their customers to make use of.