By the time you have finished reading this sentence, around $7,000 will be spent on medical malpractice in the US alone. How can you manage your own risks?
That statistic is not a typo. According to the HealthAffairs study that is the most comprehensive view of medical malpractice related costs, around $55.6 billion, or approximately 2.4%of total health care spending, will go to malpractice related expenses. That number includes defensive spending which does cause a bit of a bloat. Regardless, over $3 billion annually goes directly to malpractice lawsuit payouts, and that is alarming!
A RAND study on malpractice risk gives us yet another alarming view:
• By 45 years of age, 36% of physicians in low-risk specialties and 88% of physicians in high-risk specialties are likely to have had at least one malpractice claim.
• By 65 years of age, 75% of physicians in low-risk specialties and 99% of physicians in high-risk specialties are likely to have had at least one malpractice claim.
• Across specialties, the average indemnity payment for malpractice claims was $274,887.
We aren’t tossing these numbers around to intimidate you, but rather to impress the massive malpractice costs medical professionals face daily. With that clearly in mind, it should be apparent to what lengths one should go to defend yourself against any such claims.
Unlike television and movies portray, most malpractice cases are not the result of major errors; instead, most are the result of small, avoidable mistakes. Follow these 10 simple tips to avoid malpractice claims:
1. Communicate, communicate, communicate
The best defense against malpractice suits is good doctor/patient communication. Communication errors are the single biggest instigator of malpractice lawsuits. If your bedside manner is lacking and you have poor give and take with your patients, regardless of how good you are, you are leaving yourself vulnerable.
2. Put it in writing
Don’t depend on good communication skills alone, get it in writing! Get it all in writing! Having explicit, unambiguous documentation is always handy should you ever need to justify your actions. A paper trail unequivocally shows your thought process and actions and serves as a tremendous tool in your defense should you ever need it. On the other hand, inadequate documentation will almost always leave you more susceptible to a malpractice lawsuit.
3. Stay up-to-date on current standards
You have to stay current on what the law is. The law as it regards to medicine, as is true in all areas, is fluid. It not only changes from year to year but state to state. There are often variations from hospital to hospital even. It cannot be stressed enough that you always stay abreast of all federal, state, local and facility regulations. Failure to do so can make you susceptible to legal action.
4. Always obtain informed consent
Failure to obtain informed consent from a patient or guardian prior to performing any procedure is practically begging for a malpractice suit. You need to cover every element of a procedure in detail. Get it in writing. Good documentation is your friend. This is an essential step in covering yourself.
5. Be sure to follow-up
Following up with patients is another must-do step in steering clear of malpractice suits. Follow-up allows you to stay on top of any changes in conditions with your patients and to communicate to them how they are progressing. It’s not just the patient you need to follow up with, follow up with specialists or any other doctor involved with a patient’s case. Covering every base reduces your risk of suit.
6. Manage your patient’s expectations
Giving patients false expectations has led to more malpractice lawsuits than would seem possible. When patients have high expectations that often supersede what is reasonable, and those expectations are unmet, patients tend to get litigious. High expectations are dangerous. Under-promise and over-perform and you will often avoid many problems.
7. Put yourself in your patient’s shoes
Try to understand what your patients are going through and sympathize with them. If something is going to agitate you, it will most likely agitate them as well. Answer their queries in a reasonable amount of time. It is important that your patients feel you are devoted to their best interests. Build a beneficial doctor/patient relationship and you will be saved many headaches.
8. Keep an open mind
Don’t treat every patient in a suspect manner. Don’t make assumptions based on preconceived notions and stereotypes. Look at situations from a medical standpoint and base treatment recommendations on that alone.
9. Swallow your pride and ask for help
Not everyone is perfect. No one can do everything, and they certainly can’t do it all alone. Never hesitate to ask for help if you feel it is needed. You have to remember that a patient’s care is worth more than your pride.
10. Avoid developing bad habits
You will encounter obstacles and shortcomings in a variety of ways over the course of your medical career – most will be no fault or causing of your own. Because of this, bad habits sometimes develop. It is up to you to overcome and find ways around them without compromising the level of care you provide.
A malpractice suit isn’t the end of the world. Many claims are filed by grieving family members who just want someone to blame. Even if one is brought against you, if you have followed all of the above rules and documented your process, you should be able to defend against a claim.