Written by attorney David M. Nelson

How to Avoid Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

No physician, in today’s litigious society, is immune from professional liability lawsuits, even when he or she renders the best of care. Bad results happen, even in the best of hands. More often than not, it is these bad results that produce hard feelings and spawn medical malpractice lawsuits. In addition to rendering appropriate medical care, there are other steps that physicians can take in an attempt to avoid medical malpractice lawsuits.

  1. Be respectful and courteous to patients.

If patients have been treated disrespectfully, even when appropriate care has been rendered, they are more likely to file a lawsuit than if they were treated with respect. A patient who looks at their healthcare provider as a friend or trusted advisor will be much less likely to sue than one who has an adversarial relationship with their healthcare provider.

  1. Listen to your patients and try not to “rush" them out the door.

More often than not, patients want to be heard, and they look to their physician as someone to whom they can talk. As with everything, this is subject to limitations. Healthcare providers should not let one patient monopolize their time to such an extent that it hinders the healthcare of other patients. A happy medium needs to be reached.

  1. Manage patients’ expectations.

Many lawsuits are brought because patients have unrealistic expectations about their recovery or their capabilities following a surgical or medical procedure. Patients need to be made to understand that a return to their presurgical state of health is almost never achieved, despite proper surgical technique. It is almost always the case that, after any surgical procedure, patients will have discomfort and limitations. Patients must be made to realize that they may never regain the same function that they had prior to the surgical procedure. This is particularly true with orthopedic procedures, especially back surgeries.

  1. Understanding risks.

Prior to any surgical procedure, spend time with patients going over the consent form and the risks involved in the procedure. Many patients do not really understand the risks to which they are consenting. The physician should emphasize that physicians are not guarantors of results and that complications occur, regardless of the care rendered. Physicians should document in their chart that they have gone over all of the potential risks of the procedure and should specify in their chart all of the risks that were mentioned and discussed. Physicians should also try to explain to patients why certain complications occur even in the best of hands.

  1. Communicate effectively.

This not only consists of communicating effectively with patients, but it also includes communicating effectively with a patients’ other treating physicians, if they are being managed by other specialists or subspecialists. If a patient is seeing a different specialist or subspecialist, make sure that that physician is aware of updates in the patients’ medical condition and/or medications. This can be done by either making a phone call to the other physician or sending a letter to the other physician notifying them of any updates in treatment or medications.

These are just a few things that can be done, over and above rendering appropriate patient care, in an attempt to avoid medical malpractice lawsuits.

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