Chances are tragically high that you’ll eventually be sued for malpractice. This holds true even if your practice has done nothing wrong, has an experienced staff, does things by the book and delivers the expected standard of care. One-third of all physicians have already been there, while nearly one-fifth more have been threatened with a malpractice suit, according to a 2013 Physician’s Practice survey.
Even if you’re found not guilty, simply facing a malpractice lawsuit is stressful and, with physician information readily accessible online, may impact your reputation and your business. Paying attention to the most common causes of these often crippling lawsuits can help you avoid them.
Not following up with diagnosis
The top malpractice allegation stems from the physician’s failure to follow up with a diagnosis in a timely fashion. Having a system in place that ensures consults, diagnostic tests and lab tests are ordered and their results rapidly reviewed is a must. Failure to order tests, or inadvertently filing test results before reviewing them, can easily result in allegations of malpractice. Let patients know when they can expect to hear from you, then make sure they do.
Not following up with patients
If a patient misses his or her procedures or appointments, you could face a malpractice suit that holds you accountable. While it may seem unfair, it’s a common scenario, especially for patients diagnosed with cancer and other life-threatening conditions who turn to blaming the doctor for inadequate care due to lack of keeping track of the patient. Another fool-proof tracking system is a must, as are sending certified letters, when warranted, to ensure you have paper trail that proves your due diligence.
Breakdown in communication
Explaining why certain procedures need to be done and being open to discussing it with the patient can help immensely, particularly if the patient is facing specific financial or issues that may stand in the way of proper treatment. Communication issues can also arise from:
- Unhappy patients: They are more likely to sue than satisfied ones. Address any issues and apologize to patients if something has disturbed them. Treating patients with respect, engaging in meaningful dialogue and never dismissing concerns are other wise moves.
- Informed consent misunderstandings: Comply with state law in obtaining informed consent and make sure patients thoroughly understand any risks of a procedure before undergoing it.
- Phone call mismanagement: Staff members manning the phones must understand when a call is a priority and when a caller needs to be directed to call emergency services. Review procedures for and document details of calls made to on-call physicians.
- Failed communication during transitions: Clearly communicate a patient’s needs before handing off patients to other facilities or healthcare providers.
- Staff miscommunication: Team-oriented training can help you and your staff strengthen communication skills. Encourage staff to discuss questions or concerns they may have regarding patient care.
Unclear staff boundaries
Make it excruciatingly clear what clinical tasks can be performed by non-physician staff and which should always be performed by an MD. Also keep track of staff competencies to ensure no members are performing duties beyond their scope of knowledge or training.
Taking a proactive approach to reduce malpractice risks is a must in today’s litigation-happy society, as is remaining highly competent and accurate in every facet of your practice. An automated practice management system such as PracticeSuite can help you track billing, patient care and other areas where even a minor oversight could result in a major malpractice suit down the line. Sign up today to protect your practice.
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