Medical malpractice is a grave concern for doctors and other medical professionals. These types of cases are time-consuming and complicated and involve the plaintiff’s medical records review to determine whether correct treatment occurred. It is estimated that 93% of cases never make it to trial, while the remaining 7% go to trial. Medical malpractice litigation is immensely stressful for medical professionals because their reputation is at stake during the entire process.
How can medical malpractice risk be reduced?
- Ensure accurate and timely documentation: Documentation acts as the solid proof you need when there is an allegation of compromised care. If you have recommended something to the patient, but he/she failed to listen to it and then accuses you for some bad outcome, documentation is the only thing that can defend you. So,
- Make sure that you maintain records for every patient visit that contain details such as findings, medical decisions, instructions, any significant issues, and all dates and times.
- Write clearly so that it is easy to identify who you talked to (patients/caregivers) and what instructions you gave.
Accurate documentation will work in your favour and prove that your recommendations had a firm medical reasoning.
- Ensure open communication: Communication is vital to reduce medical mal risks. Physicians can enhance communication with patients via:
- Building strong relationships with your patients
- Listening and guiding your patients
- Asking relevant questions to them so that they share all their concerns
- Never diagnose or prescribe over the telephone: You can make an accurate diagnosis for most medical conditions only by seeing the patient in person. Therefore try not to prescribe or make a diagnosis over the phone. If at all it becomes necessary to prescribe over the phone, document your discussion and set a contract with the patient to call you back as a follow-up regarding their disease progress.
- Follow all standards set by your state: Since medical malpractice is considered on a state level, you have to follow your state’s current standards for medical professionals. Ensure that you know and understand these standards. To reduce the risk of medical malpractice, comply with standards and stay current on all standards that have changed.
- Get informed consent: For any surgical procedure, informed consent is mandatory. This is to be given by a patient or their guardian. Documentation of informed consent include:
- Procedure details
- Don’t hesitate to make referrals when necessary: If the patient’s condition is outside your specialty and you are not well-informed of it, refer the patient to specialists who will have a better understanding of the particular health condition. This is vital to avoid offering the wrong medical advice and inviting serious legal repercussions.
- Ensure timely follow-up with your patients: This is important because it helps you stay current on the patient’s condition. When you ensure a follow-up, it helps address issues as and when they arise. Follow-ups enable you to receive feedback from the patient, work together with him/her and ensure a warm patient-doctor relationship.
- Don’t be rushed and distant: Make sure that you never compromise the time you spend to prepare for appointments. Review your patient’s files carefully before the appointment. Make each patient feel special. Showing consideration is meaningful for your patients and reduces the chances of medical malpractice litigation for perceived negligence.
- Ensure patient confidentiality: Keep patient information confidential. Disclose such sensitive information only to the patient or an authorized person (the authorization should be received in writing). Diagnosis, results, further tests, referrals and so on should be explained in detail to the patient and all patient decisions documented.
- Be prepared to apologize in case of a medical error: If you apologize to patients who have experienced medical errors, it could reduce the probability of legal action. Studies show that genuine apology and expression of sympathy and acceptance of the error by the doctor encouraged patients to be more forgiving and ready to accept settlement offers. Apologies needn’t be used against you because many states now have physician apology laws that enable a doctor to make an apology without being concerned about it being used against him/her later in a medical malpractice suit.
- Don’t alter any medical records: Even if you see a mistake or omission in the patient medical records, don’t attempt to alter it. The proper procedure is to correct the mistake by crossing it out with a line through it, add your initials, and write the corrected note. Ensure that everything is legible. If you had an oversight in the EHR, add a postscript to the medical note and correct the mistake.
It is important to understand that medical malpractice lawsuits against healthcare professionals are not based exclusively on errors in medical treatments. These are more about how patients feel they were treated or mistreated by the provider or facility. Providers should therefore focus on acknowledging the physical and emotional needs of patients because it would help stop the patient from resorting to litigation to demand what they are not receiving, namely, attention. Though all medical malpractice claims do not arise from a selfish desire to gain attention, doctors should ensure patient satisfaction by attending to their emotional needs also. Listening skills and compassion will go a long way to ensure proper and warm communication between physicians and their patients. As providers of medical record review for attorneys, we understand that medical malpractice attorneys advise their client doctors to ensure patient comfort and trust that are essential elements of patient care. Healthcare institutions and medical schools are emphasizing complete patient care in view of increased medical malpractice litigation but this emphasis can work only if medical professionals themselves incorporate compassion and more effective communication into their everyday interactions with patients.