Medical Malpractice Lawsuits: How to avoid getting sued
Guest post by FFAS Symposium presenter, JuliAnn Y. Geldner, J.D., L.LM
You hear about it, you read about it, you worry about it…that’s the climate physicians work in when it comes to concerns about medical malpractice lawsuits. According to The Doctors Company, a medical malpractice insurance carrier, there are three major reasons patients sue: improper performance of surgery, improper management of surgical patients, and improper performance of treatment.
Improper performance of surgery is generally claimed when patients have a complication from the surgery. Improper management of surgical patients is when a patient experiences complications from the surgery which they believe have not been managed appropriately. Improper performance of treatment is when treatment of a patient did not meet their expectations or there was a complication that did not get treated in an appropriate and timely manner.
So, how do you deal with these issues?
There are a number of strategies that physicians and their office staffs can use to minimize exposure to lawsuits.
First things first: address patient selection. Obtaining an accurate and complete medical history is crucial. Patients are notoriously poor historians so you need to dig deep to obtain all of their relevant medical information. This information will help you determine if a patient is a good candidate for the procedure that they.
The worst thing you can do is perform an operation on a patient who is not a good candidate. Do not be afraid to say “no” to a patient. If the patient is not a good candidate, explain why and perhaps discuss alternative procedures for which they may be a good candidate.
Next, be sure you set reasonable expectations for the patients’ recovery and expected results. Patients don’t like to be surprised by their post-operative recovery or their end result. Prepare patients for how the course of their recovery could go. Also, do not set your patients up with overblown exceptions about the result of the procedure. Results vary depending upon a plethora of circumstances. Do not under any circumstances use language that either guarantees a result or that can be interpreted to be a guarantee.
Make sure you have a thorough informed consent document which includes language informing the patient that a reasonable option is not to have the surgery at all. Additionally, go over the informed consent document thoroughly and answer all of the patients questions. You can have your nurse go over the informed consent initially, but you, as the physician, need to be an integral part of the informed consent process.
When post-operative patients call the office, make sure staff is trained to obtain information that you need to determine if the patient should be seen right away or can wait. Call the patient back immediately if you have any concern.
Last, but not least, document, document, document. Especially document when patients are non-compliant and your instructions to the non-compliant patient.
If you do all of the above, you should be less likely to become victim to an angry patient who wants to sue.