Medical malpractice-related costs have reached $55.6 billion per year, according to a HealthAffairs study. That accounts for about 2.4% of all healthcare spending.
“Each state has its own laws related to medical malpractice. In California, for example, just being accused of medical malpractice or an ethics violation can lead to disciplinary action,” says Tsion Chudnovsky, a medical license attorney at Chudnovsky Law.
“The practice specialty areas with the most malpractice lawsuits are Anesthesiology, Emergency Medicine, General/Family Practice, Gynecology, Internal Medicine, Obstetrics, Orthopedic Surgery, Plastic Surgery, Radiology and Surgery,” according to Chudnovsky.
Practicing “Defensive Medicine”
Despite evidence that the majority of U.S. physicians practice “defensive medicine” – spending more on tests and healthcare to reduce the risk of malpractice lawsuits – it is not clear that has any effect on reducing claims.
A Harvard Medical School study of 18 million hospital admissions involving 24,637 physicians that experienced 4,342 malpractice claims (2.8% per physician per year) found no evidence that the greater use of resources by physicians is associated with fewer malpractice claims.
While there may be no foolproof way to shield yourself from medical malpractice claims, here are 7 steps you can take to reduce your risk:
1. Establish Good Relationships with Your Patients
The doctor–patient relationship is a keystone to care. Patients expect quality medical care from their doctors. They also expect to be treated with kindness, compassion, respect and personal attention.
Respect and empathy can help patients be more forthcoming about their health and what they’re experiencing. When patients feel valued and comfortable discussing their symptoms, doctors are better able to make accurate diagnoses.
Clear and effective communication is crucial. After all, communication-related errors are the primary cause of malpractice claims.
2. Accurate and Complete Documentation
Communication is important, but accurate and complete documentation and charting is just as important. If you ever have to defend your actions, having explicit, comprehensive documentation will allow you to recount a situation and give a valid reason for your decision.
Ideally, you should document everything that happens between you and your patients.
- Include dates and times with each entry, and include your signature
- Write legibly
- Record all advice, findings, decisions, instructions, etc. on significant issues
- Identify all people in your report
Documentation can make or break a medical malpractice case. If a patient makes a negligence claim and you have no documentation to defend your actions, the jury will very likely side with your patient.
3. Follow Standard Procedures
It’s important to follow proper medical standard of care practices when caring for patients. Following the standard policies will ensure that your patients receive the best care possible and your actions defensible in a lawsuit. These policies must be followed with each and every patient and in each and every case.
It’s also important to stay up to date on standards to ensure that you’re always providing patients with the best care possible.
4. Be Clear and Be Consistent
Compassion is important, but it’s also important to be clear and consistent in doctor–patient communication. Explain everything in terms and language that they can understand. Illustrations can be helpful and allow patients to visualize their diagnosis or explain how a treatment or medication will work.
Consistency is also important. Patients should all receive the same high level of care and attention.
5. Always Follow Up
It’s important to follow up with patients after exams and conversations to receive valuable feedback. If other physicians or specialists are involved in the patient’s case, be sure to follow up with them as well. When you have set protocols in place, all members of your practice can work together to ensure that follow-ups with patients are documented.
6. Always Obtain Informed Consent
Performing operations or procedures without informed consent is asking for a malpractice lawsuit. It is critical to review all elements of the procedure with the patient beforehand, including costs, range of outcomes, risks, reasons for/against the procedure, etc.
7. Manage Patient Expectations
Make it a priority to manage patient expectations throughout the entire process. Be as accurate and forthright as possible when discussing possible courses of action as well as possible outcomes and implications that may arise from medical decisions.