Preventing medical malpractice claims with smart strategies

Physicians and their patients all make their best efforts to exchange information to ensure great patient care. At points in the healthcare process, there can be mistakes leading to dissatisfied patients. In many cases, miscommunication and errors can be corrected with little harm done. In other instances, malpractice complaints are filed. Everyone involved in the patient care process would prefer to avoid a negative incident or malpractice complaint. Being diligent in assuring good patient care involves adopting strategies in reducing risks of medical mistake.

In a recent article published in Medical Economics, several doctors and healthcare professionals shared their perspectives on improving patient care, communication and documentation, ideally reducing malpractice lawsuits.[i]

The following is a summary of 5 strategies to reduce malpractice lawsuit threats:

Proper documentation means documenting everything

“Every doctor is taught that if you didn’t put it in the chart, you didn’t do it.[ii]” In error in noting a patient’s chart begs the question of how to correct the typo or wrong word choices. The best practice is to make a separate notation which you identify and incorporate by reference in the original notation. Changing or deleting an error can lead to trouble.

Noting everything in the patient’s chart should also include any communication with patients and family members. Ask them to explain the information back to you to make sure they understand. Make a note in the chart describing exactly how the communication took place. If you note everything with the sense that any other physician could step into patient care without missing a beat, you are engaging in a positive habit that should help avoid medical mistakes and malpractice claims.

Transparency with patients and facilitating access to charts and notes

Does your physician share access to notes and charts? Would you know how to read and interpret those notes if they were made available to you as a patient? Transparency in healthcare services allows patients and their physicians to all understand the reason and course of care. A patient may elect to seek another medical opinion and if they do, the more information you share with them as the primary physician, the better you may be protected from later claims of medical mistake or malpractice. It may take longer to create notes that others can understand, but the benefit in transparency and documentation makes this a best practice.

Expressing empathy when sharing information with patients

When a physician discovers a medical error, they may face tough decisions in communicating errors with patients and their families. While the natural inclination may to apologize and express remorse for a medical mistake, too many physicians are worried about an admission of error which could lead to a malpractice claim. While contrition may be, appropriate and appease concerned patients and families in many instances, there may be times your apology is insufficient to resolve dissatisfaction.

Illinois is one of many states with “sorry laws” protecting physicians from exposure in malpractice cases for expressing apologies and remorse to patients and families. The form of an apology should be sincere and honest. You can effectively express empathy without saying too much that may confuse or give the patient and family the wrong idea. Apologies when due, can be an appropriate best practice. Notwithstanding, being aware of hospital administration and policies that may affect your patient communications is important.

Managing the risks associated with electronic health records

The intended purpose of electronic health records (EHRs) is to solve information and documentation concerns. The portability and access to EHRs should help prevent medical mistakes and malpractice claims. Nevertheless, there are EHR pitfalls to avoid, such as using auto-populating fields in the forms and copying and pasting. Drop down menu errors can also be a problem and cause the wrong information to be populated in the EHRs, which can lead to medical mistakes and malpractice. Imagine another physician relies on wrong information in a patient’s EHRs and misses a drug allergy or gives a patient wrong dose of medications.

Maintaining positive relationships with patients and their family

Reducing uncertainty and increasing understanding is good for physician-patient communication and care. When family members are involved, it is a good practice to let them know what is happening in the care process and what issues may arise and affect the patient’s health. Showing the patient and their family attention and explanation of what is happen and what is anticipated in patient care may give the patient and family solace in knowing their concerns are important and well-attended. Being realistic and transparent is always a best practice to increase understanding and prevent medical mistakes and malpractice claims.

Adding these strategies to your practice

Since so much documentation is required in healthcare, it should be reasonably simple to include these proactive patient care strategies to any healthcare practice. Adding reminders to engage in these tasks is helpful in adopting them as positive habits in practice. Health law, litigation and licensing attorney, Michael V. Favia works with patients, physicians and healthcare organizations to identify and manage risks and to prevent and resolve conflicts when they arise. An audit of a physicians practice can lead to solutions in preventing malpractice.

About us: Michael V. Favia & Associates, P.C. is a health law and litigation firm in Chicago representing individuals, healthcare professionals and organizations with civil legal matters as well as professional licensing and regulation.

Chicago health law and litigation attorney Michael V. Favia and his associates in several locations and disciplines, advise and represent private individuals as well as healthcare professionals in all types of litigation and administrative matters involving licensing and regulatory agencies.

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[i] Medical Economics, 5 strategies to reduce malpractice lawsuit threats, By Liz Seegert, Nov. 10, 2016.

[ii] See HNi above.