Clinicians face an ever-present threat of being named in a medical malpractice lawsuit. In addition to having the proper malpractice coverage, there are other precautionary measures you can take to protect your professional, personal, and financial well-being.
To help avoid a litigation nightmare, consider the following four tips for decreasing your medical malpractice liability risk:
1. Document properly
How many times have you heard “If you didn’t document it, it didn’t happen”? This certainly holds true for medical liability. During malpractice litigation, members of your ancillary staff, medical assistants, or nurses may be called as witnesses, so it is an absolute must that they practice proper documentation. This includes signing any notes added to a patient’s medical file.
Consider this scenario. Your assistant documented in a medical file that a migraine patient stated, at the time of the interview, that she was not experiencing memory issues or changes in mental status. But when the patient files a lawsuit against you for missing her brain aneurysm, she alleges that she told you about her memory issues and altered mental status. Without your medical assistant to testify in your defense, it would ultimately become a case of your word against the patient’s. However, with your assistant to attest to information given during the patient interview, you can provide a better defense of your case.
It’s also important that you document any conversations you have with your supervising physician. As always, make sure your documentation is both legible and unaltered. If you must include notes that are not in your original documentation, do so as an addendum with the appropriate date noted.
Finally, never document anything in a the record that you wouldn’t want a patient, lawyer, judge, or jury to read.
2. Utilize recall systems
Although they serve different functions for different practices, recall systems can be quite useful when it comes to protecting yourself in malpractice suits. From providing patient reminders to scheduling periodic appointments for high-risk patients, recall systems can lower your liability risk.
Establishing and maintaining a solid recall system is important when it comes to protecting yourself during malpractice litigations. Among other functions, your recall system should include a logbook to record any pathology or laboratory reports that come in.
Imagine you perform a Pap smear on a 26-year-old patient and the laboratory faxes the report to the wrong number. You told your patient that “no news is good news,” so she never calls to discuss the results of her test. When she returns one year later for her annual exam, she’s diagnosed with cervical cancer. You request the previous year’s laboratory report and learn that the results indicate severe cervical dysplasia. Who’s at fault – you or the laboratory?
Although you may consider it one of the least enjoyable aspects of the job, take the time to keep a logbook and go through it on a monthly basis to make sure that no outstanding reports are in the system.
3. Get informed consent
If a clinician neglects to obtain appropriate informed consent, a patient may be able to file a malpractice lawsuit if they are injured as a result of negligence. It is crucial that you document this. This means that you have explained such subjects as the side effects, alternative treatments, potential adverse outcomes, clinical expectations, and the potential outcomes of opting out of a particular procedure. As an additional layer of protection, you may want to create different informed consents for various procedures performed.
4. Provide quality patient care
Believe it or not, likability is a factor when it comes to a patient’s decision to sue. Studies show that patients are less likely to sue a provider they like. Most patients want a clinician who is a good listener, involves them in medical decisions, discusses treatment options clearly, and shows empathy and respect. Make sure that you offer your patients the highest standard of care at all times.
PAs and NPs need to be acutely aware of any patient who will never be satisfied with the care they receive simply because there’s no MD or DO at the end of your name. Patients who are skeptical of your professional abilities as a “nonphysician” should be considered liability risks and be treated as such.