A study published in the medical journal JAMA Surgery on February 15, 2017 found that patients whose surgeons were associated with higher numbers of unsolicited patient observations in the 24 months prior to their operation experienced more surgical and medical complications than did patients receiving care from surgeons with fewer unsolicited patient observations.
The study looked at “unsolicited patient observations,” which are complaints against their surgeons and typically involve the surgeons’ inability to communicate respectfully and effectively with patients and other medical professionals that lead to patient dissatisfaction.
The retrospective cohort study of 32 ,125 patients included 13 ,230 men and 18 ,895 women, with a mean age of 55.8. The study found that 3,501 of the patients (10.9%) experienced a complication, including 1,754 who suffered a surgical complication (5.5%) and 2,422 who suffered a medical complication (7.5%). The study found that the adjusted rate of complications was 13.9% higher for patients whose surgeon was in the highest quartile of unsolicited patient observations compared with patients whose surgeon was in the lowest quartile. The differences remained when controlling for a variety of patient, operative, and surgeon factors.
The study’s authors noted that prior studies have shown that the distribution of malpractice claims among physicians is not random; a small number of clinicians account for a disproportionate share of total cases of and expenditures associated with malpractice. The authors expressed that their findings are not surprising in that interviews with families who have filed malpractice lawsuits reveal that factors other than money, such as lost trust in the physician and an unmet need for information, are primary drivers behind patients’ and families’ desire to sue a physician after an unexpected adverse outcome.
The study used data from seven academic medical centers participating in the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program and the Vanderbilt Patient Advocacy Reporting System from January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2013.
The study concluded, “not only are patients whose surgeons fail to communicate clearly or model respect more likely to file a malpractice claim in the face of any adverse outcome but that same surgeon may be nonrandomly contributing to the unexpected adverse outcomes that lead to claims … surgeons who improve their interactions, communication, and accessibility for patients may also favorably alter the work environment, contributing to enhanced team performance and reducing the likelihood of complications. Other future lines of inquiry might focus on the analysis of different types of unsolicited patient observations.”
The study’s lead author stated, “We know that 3 percent of physicians nationally account for 50 percent of patient complaints and those same physicians account for 50 to 60 percent of the malpractice risk. So what that means is that patients are picking up something in their interaction with their doctor that did not sit right with them.”
If you or a family member were injured during surgery, you should promptly find a medical malpractice attorney in your U.S. state who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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