An overwhelming majority of medical malpractice lawsuits are brought by people who are representing someone who has died or by patients who have suffered permanent injury. According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, medication mistakes form the bulk of most medical errors, causing serious harm to more than 1.5 million patients every year.
The emotional toll of a medical malpractice lawsuit can severely undermine a doctor’s trust and confidence. Consequently, many medical practitioners tend to be exceedingly hard on themselves. They see every possible mistake in the process of care. From poor follow-ups to alleged errors in diagnosis, doctors face risks every day. However, by understanding what causes the greatest malpractice risk, doctors and other medical staff can create and implement procedures and policies to protect themselves and their practices.
Risk Management Strategies
These are strategies that medical practitioners can adopt to minimize the likelihood of harm to their patients. By adhering to certain approaches, doctors can better manage malpractice risks and improve the quality of care they offer their patients. Those in the medical profession should always remember that the foundation of risk management is the subscription to an unwavering standard of excellence in healthcare.
Risks that Doctors Must Mitigate:
When it comes to running a medical practice, open and honest communication should be one’s fundamental approach. This is why it’s known as full disclosure. Patients tend to be more forgiving and understanding of mistakes when they feel their doctors truly care about them and have their best interests at heart. According to the Medical Protective Company’s chief medical officer, Graham Billingham, the number of malpractice lawsuits has gone down considerably in the past few years due—in part—to doctors giving honest explanations when faced with unexpected outcomes.
However, it’s also important to understand that an undesired result is not always synonymous with poor care or malpractice. Poor communication combined with a bad outcome usually drive patients towards litigation. Therefore, the importance of effective communication between doctors and their patients cannot be stressed enough.
Unsatisfactory training and failure to uphold standards
Doctors need to update their training and knowledge in their areas of specialty. They should be aware of any new developments such as technological changes, changes in disease management, and the recently published standards of care. For instance, some medical malpractice claims focus on the issue of whether the doctor followed the latest standards of medical procedure.
Failure to get informed consent
Patient consent is another issue. Doctors should always ensure their patients have given their consent for any subsequent treatment or procedure. For example, before a doctor performs an operation, s/he should ensure that the patient understands all the associated risks. The doctor must explain the risks before the operation clearly and include that information in a consent document the patient must sign.
Follow-up failures by doctors also contribute to a significant number of malpractice suits. Sometimes, doctors fail to receive test results, and, in other instances, patients fail to follow through with tests as instructed. Therefore, it’s important that doctors and other medical staff can follow-up on the status of such orders to ensure that no instructions are forgotten or dismissed.
Other things doctors should do to help minimize their risk of facing a malpractice suit:
- Keep accurate medical records of all exams, procedures, and counseling
- Build functional, trusting relationships with their patients
- Maintain patient confidentiality
- Guard against missed or delayed diagnosis
- Offer honest apologies for any mistakes
- Obtain medical malpractice insurance
Last, but hardly least, it’s vital to remember that medical personnel who are rude and unhelpful can quickly and easily trigger the level of discontent required for a patient to file a malpractice suit if anything untoward were to occur while that person is in a medical practitioner’s care.
Risk management is a moving target. As new treatments and technologies emerge, so too will associated malpractice risks.
Be aware of what’s out there and be careful!