Lawsuits: 'It's Not All About the Doctor'

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October 22, 2013

In This Article

A Major Factor in Lawsuits Why Some Lawsuits Are Preventable

Willis reported that an analysis of a survey by The Doctors Company showed that of 2509 closed claims from 2007 to 2012, communication was a factor in 21% of all the cases, she said.

Although communication with the patient during the examination and in the office is vitally important, it also tends to break down at particular times. "When the patient leaves the office, 80% of what has been told to them is forgotten," she says. "Of the remaining 20%, only one half of the information is remembered correctly. That leaves only about 10% of the information that was remembered correctly."

Physicians need to recognize and periodically remind staff of the key role they play in preventing lawsuits and keeping patients satisfied and happy. The staff are integral members of your team in keeping the practice healthy.

When communicating with patients, there are ways for physicians and staff to improve their interactions, help patients participate in their own care, and help prevent lawsuits, says Willis.

1. Put in place a tracking system for test results. "One of the top reasons for lawsuits is missed diagnoses and delayed diagnoses," says Willis. She described a tragic event in which a patient was given a diagnostic test that revealed a serious disease. However, the test results were put into the patient's chart and not communicated to him.

There was no mechanism to make sure those results were given to the patient. The patient didn't come back to the office for a year, and when he did return, that's when the physician opened the file and saw the diagnosis. By then, the situation had progressed seriously for the patient, and the practice was in trouble.

2. Don't allow the patient to sign a consent form if he or she still has questions for the doctor. "Sometimes a medical assistant gives the patient a stack of papers, including a consent form to sign, as part of their standard paperwork, while the patient is still waiting to see the physician," says Willis. In this situation, the patient is being asked to sign it without ever talking to the doctor about the risks or pros and cons of treatment.

"That consent form would not hold up in court," says Willis.

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