Most medical malpractice lawsuits that occur in the U.S. come from surgical procedures. While that fact might be scary to some, most doctors will be comforted by the fact that an astounding 80% of all errors that occurred during surgeries were found to have been preventable, according to a study done by Massachusetts General Hospital. Because knowledge is power, here are four ways you can help prevent a malpractice lawsuit in your practice.
You've heard the old adage that communication is key, but when it comes to preventing a medical malpractice accusation, it really rings true.
If your patient has a less-than-desired outcome from their surgery, open and honest communication can be very effective at preventing issues. The important thing to remember is that just because something didn't go as planned, it doesn't mean that the patient is ready to rush out and hire an attorney. In other words, don't assume the worst and go into hiding. Quite often, it's not the negative outcome that leads to a lawsuit; it's when the patient suffers and doesn't receive adequate communication. They feel ignored and as though they are not important. This can lead to fear and frustration.
Whether the problem occurred because of an error on your part or not, listen to your patient and answer their questions, offer easy to follow instructions on what to do next, and involve family members in this Q&A session as well as their post-operative care. Be sure to document everything, including what was said between you and those involved. Be empathetic. Make eye contact, and don't be afraid to place a compassionate arm around them or give their shoulder a reassuring touch. You'd be amazed at how far these caring gestures go towards making your patient feel important.
Let the patient and the family know that you are aware of the situation and that you will do everything in your power to prevent it from happening again. And when necessary, be prepared to offer a formal apology.
Taking Your Time
Dr. Jonathan Jones, M.D., of one of the nation's largest medical malpractice insurers, has taken the opportunity to observe surgical procedures. According to his observations, most of the errors have occurred when the surgeon was in a rush. This can cause a multitude of medical mistakes like incorrectly placing sutures or staples, accidentally closing off major blood vessels, and severing nerves. Whatever your reason for rushing, know that you are increasing your risk of facing a malpractice lawsuit or having to correct the issue down the road.
Adequate Follow Up
Some sort of follow-up is generally required after surgery. This can be as simple as giving the patient the results of their surgery, rechecking incisions, instructing them to have lab work or X-rays done within a certain time frame, or ensuring that they see the proper specialist afterwards. Allowing a patient to fall through the cracks can lead to improper post surgical care.
If a patient doesn't hear back from you, they may assume that no news is good news. And if their biopsy was positive for cancer, obviously they won't get the treatment they need, at least not in time. Every physician should have a procedure in place that guarantees appropriate follow-up is performed. This can include having a special department to handle all outgoing and incoming calls from post-operative patients, requiring patients to have a scheduled appointment for their follow-up, and staying in contact with the referring physician.
Spending More Money
Believe it or not, spending more money on your patients may decrease your risk for a lawsuit, according to a study done by a Harvard affiliate. This is particularly true for obstetricians, gynecologists, and general surgeons as they seem to be a greater risk for being sued. Within the study, general surgeons saw a 3.4% reduction in lawsuits when they invested more money on their patients, and internal medicine specialists saw a 2.4% decrease.
Patients may see the higher expenditures as getting a higher level of care, ultimately reassuring them that their doctor truly cares about investing in their medical treatment. Whatever the reason, it certainly pays to spend money on your surgical patients. If you have been sued for medical malpractice, contact a lawyer from a firm like R.J. Marzella & Associates, P.C.