Medical malpractice takes many forms, whether it is an unexpected poor outcome from a procedure or mistakes made via an EHR.
One important thing to realize is malpractice lawsuits rarely make it to trial. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, all but 7 percent of medical malpractice cases are settled out of court. The ones that do go to court can cripple not only a practice, but a physician's livelihood and reputation as well.
"Most claims are settled and don't go to the level of a full-blown medical malpractice trial with a jury verdict. But the ones that do have reward in the millions. …You cannot get sued and believe your business, practice, career are just going to continue to roll along like nothing happened," says Ike Devji, JD, an asset protection attorney in Phoenix, Ariz.
Here are some strategies to avoid being sued at your practice in the first place.
Communication is Key
Because taking care of a patient does not yield 100 percent positive results, a constant line of communication between a physician and patient can go a long way toward avoiding a lawsuit, says Michael R Marks, MD, MBA orthopedic spine surgeon and founder of Marks Healthcare Consulting in Westport, Conn.
"Patients sue because they feel deserted, devalued, or that they have not been given the complete answers for what's going on. When something bad happens, physicians need to get closer to their patient, stay on top of the issue, and let the patient know they care," says Marks.
Unrealistic expectations, often a byproduct of poor communication, can set physicians up for failure.
"Doctors are great at explaining the clinical aspects to patients, but we don't necessarily go over the alternatives or risks all the time. And we rarely go back and make sure the patient understands what we are talking about, says Marks.
For example, Marks cites data that says complications following spine surgery happen to roughly 1 percent of patients. "I would explain that risk to patients and they would say 'oh that's really low.' It is low, but somebody does get affected. And, if it happens to you, that risk is 100 percent and you won't care about the other 99 percent that didn't get affected. Explaining risks beforehand is important," he says.
It is often the actions and communication the physician has with a patient following an adverse or unfavorable event that determine whether or not a claim will be filed, according to attorney Michael Sacopulos, JD, from Terre Haute, Ind.
"[Being sued] has little to do with the physician's ability as a clinician, it has much more to do with their ability as a communicator. An explanation of how something went wrong and why it won't happen again does more to deter a lawsuit than anything else," says Sacopulos. "Physicians tend to judge themselves on clinical ability, they have this specialty knowledge, but the patients don't have that knowledge, so they are going to judge you on how well you interact with them."