While lawyers and judges are the ultimate legal experts, of course, I believe that every citizen should take the time to learn a little about law for several reasons. First, it is important to know your rights, and knowing them can come in handy if anyone ever accuses you of a crime you didn't commit or threatens you legally in another other way. Second, learning about your local, state, and federal laws can help you act as a better citizen. When election time comes around, you can then truly understand ever change in law being proposed by a candidate and whether it benefits society or not. I plan to share posts about law topics explained in plain English on my new blog, so you can come back often to sharpen your legal knowledge!
If you are finishing up your residency this summer and are getting ready to start your own medical practice, then there are many things you must do to avoid future problems with medical malpractice lawsuits. Since this is one aspect of your career medical school probably didn't adequately teach you about, here are some lawyer-approved tips to help you both provide excellent care for your future patients and avoid unnecessary malpractice liabilities.
Tip: Cultivate a Mutually Respectful Relationship with Your Patients and Their Families
If you think about it for a moment, people don't typically sue people they like or respect. In fact, most lawsuits are filed because someone is angry, feels victimized, or seriously dislikes the person or business they bring their case against.
Since you want to eliminate as much of your malpractice liability as possible, the best place to start is by cultivating mutually respectful relationships with all of your patients and their families. Simply by being nice, caring, and showing empathy, you can avoid many of the hard feelings that can crop up and lead to a lawsuit.
Tip: Always Communicate Clearly
One of the most common problems between providers and their patients is miscommunication. And, it is easy for a simple miscommunication problem to lead to future malpractice lawsuits.
For example, if you believe a patient shows signs of lung cancer and you mention they should have an x-ray to rule it out, then you need to clearly communicate the importance of this screening test with your patient. If you downplay the situation as "probably nothing, but..." then the patient may opt to save money and skip a potentially life-saving test. Afterward, their family may sue you because their understanding is you told their loved one the test wasn't necessary.
Tip: Implement Standard Policies and Procedures
As you set up your new practice, set up official policies and procedures you follow based on various patient complaints. For example, if the standard care procedure for strep throat is to obtain a culture and only prescribe antibiotics for a positive result, then do this for each patient you see with potential strep throat.
If you veer from your standard procedure, then you may see a patient with possible strep, treat them without a screening test, and then find they had a lethal reaction to penicillin because they actually had mononucleosis. To avoid this type of liability, follow your procedures even if your patients complain about the added cost of testing.
Tip: Require Written Informed Consent
Finally, before you do any invasive procedures on patients, require them to first sign a written consent form. When it comes to malpractice cases, verbal consent just won't do.
For more information, contact your local medical malpractice law office.