Six Top Malpractice Risks in Primary Care

Mark E. Crane


September 14, 2010

In This Article

Malpractice From Miscommunication

Juries have little sympathy when a patient is injured because his doctors didn't adequately communicate with each other. The handoff between primary care doctor and specialist or hospitalist is fraught with peril and the potential for needed follow-up to fall through the cracks.

"The advent of hospitalists provides great advantages to patients," says Gabel. "It allows the primary doctor to be more available in the office setting while another doctor is paying attention to the hospitalized patient in a way the primary doctor can't. But it's a double-edge sword. Each doctor must be clear on what is diagnosed, what was done and what's the plan of action for when the patient is discharged. It must be clear who is doing the follow-up."

Roland Goertz agrees. "One of the biggest factors in how heart failure patients will do is that they get a follow-up appointment with their primary physician within a week of discharge from the hospital," he says. "We doctors sometimes forget there's a telephone so physicians can let each other know what's needed."

Of course, good communication between doctor and patient is crucial. A good bedside manner plus fully informing patients and their families when things go wrong can discourage lawsuits. "When we did a study of physicians who have never been sued, they all attributed their success to good communication with patients," says Goertz.

"When patients sue, it's often due to a breakdown in trust with the physician. Patients and families get frustrated when the physician isn't forthcoming with an explanation of what happened. They are looking for answers and get angry when they perceive physician indifference. All of that can be averted with better communication."


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.