By the time a doctor reaches age 65, three quarters of those in low risk practices will have been sued. 99% of those in high risk specialties will have faced a lawsuit. Lawsuits can be devastating to a physician, sometimes financially, but almost always emotionally. Many of those suits could have been avoided if the doctor had followed some simple, but essential, rules.
Communicate with your patient and/or family. Nothing is more important. You must talk to your patient and be sure that s/he understands everything. Select a spokesperson for the family and talk to that one only. Don’t try explaining to a group. Above all be honest. Be kind, but don’t honey coat your diagnosis. If your patient is going to die, tell him/her even if it makes you uncomfortable. Take the time to explain procedures and surgeries and risk/benefit ratios. Develop a relationship with your patients that is courteous and respectful. It’s much harder to sue a doctor you really like.
Document everything. Everything. With EMRs that is difficult but write it down. Get it in the record—everything you said, everything the patient said, your concerns, anything that shows your diligence. Be sure your handwriting can be read. It doesn’t do any good otherwise. Record all your findings and date and time every entry.
Follow up on your patient. If you have concerns, check on the patient. Call him/her. See how s/he’s doing. And be available or have someone you trust cover for you. When your patient calls to talk to you and says it’s urgent, call back as soon as you can. It may not turn out to be urgent but, then again, you might save a life (and avoid a lawsuit). Make sure to document the phone call, and every phone call, with date and time.
Make sure you get a signed consent form for every procedure. And make sure you inform the patient in clear, understandable language. Then double check to be certain that the patient understands what you said. Don’t just ask if s/he has any questions. Tell them to repeat what you said.
Be obsessive about your patients. Check to see if they can fill the prescription you just wrote. Don’t tell them to call the specialist and set up an appointment. Have your receptionist do that while the patient is still in the office. Ensure that they get the best care you can provide and then document every bit of it.
For those worried about medical malpractice on either end of the issue, they can contact personal injury lawyers for a consultation and to decide how to proceed.
Author information: Anica Oaks is a professional content and copywriter who graduated from the University of San Francisco. She loves dogs, the ocean, and anything outdoor-related. She was raised in a big family, so she’s used to putting things to a vote. Also, cartwheels are her specialty. You can connect with Anica here.