In an article entitled “Talking Your Way Out Of A Lawsuit” (subtitled: Good communication is a fundamental step in avoiding medical malpractice lawsuits) that was published earlier this month in the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons’ publication (AAOS), Now, the author states, “as physicians, we do have control over some circumstances that contribute to patients’ filing lawsuits. Although we can not control all of the factors, we can have significant influence over the quality of the patient-physician relationship. Good communication is the foundation of a strong patient relationship. Good communication can positively influence outcomes, satisfaction, and reduce the incidence of malpractice lawsuits.”
The author, who is the chair of the AAOS’ Medical Liability Committee, questions the common perception among doctors that medical malpractice lawsuits are filed due to greedy patients and aggressive lawyers, noting that less than 3% of all hospitalized patients who suffered an injury due to medical negligence actually file medical malpractice claims for their injuries, and research has shown that patients who liked their physicians tend not to file medical malpractice claims against them (some poor-performing doctors are never sued while some highly-skilled doctors are sued often).
The article’s author references the findings of a study that involved recording hundreds of conversations between patients and doctors. Half of the doctors in the study had never been sued for medical malpractice and the other half had been sued for medical negligence two or more times. The study found that the doctors who had never been sued spent, on average, three minutes more with their patients than the doctors who had been sued.
The author further states that prior studies analyzing the root cause of medical malpractice lawsuits have all found that the breakdown in the patient-physician relationship was the root cause: the patient felt that the physician did not listen, the physician did not speak candidly with the patient, the physician was thought to have attempted to mislead the patient, the physician failed to communicate risks and complications associated with medical treatment, the patient felt that the physician was not available to the patient, and/or the physician failed to understand the patient’s perspective.
The author offers suggestions to help physicians avoid medical malpractice claims against them: engage the patient (listen not only to what is said but also to what is not said, and resist the tendency to interrupt patients), display empathy (sit during office visits and avoid distractions such as interruptions or cell phones), properly educate patients (discussions with patients should be at the level of their ability to communicate and understand; drawings, handouts, and video materials can be used to assist patients’ understanding), and enlist the patient (provide a road map of the treatment plan, keep treatment regimens simple, provide written instructions, and outline the risks, side effects, and anticipated out-of pocket expenses).
Our summary of the article: physicians should act as caring human beings when interacting with their patients.
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