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Top Reasons Doctors Get Sued for Malpractice

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. | Last updated on

People do not expect their doctors to be perfect. But they do expect them to communicate clearly. When they don't, patients are more inclined to sue, according to Ultra, a helathcare insurance underwriter that manages physician risk.

Communication is the most important aspect of any relationship. The physician-patient relationship is no exception. Often, we reveal aspects of ourselves or our bodies to doctors that we would not show anyone else. So, it is perhaps not surprising that when things go wrong and physicians are not forthright, patients are more likely to fight back.

Poor Bedside Manner

When doctors treat their patients with respect and care, don't rush through visits, and do make eye contact, they get more than a good feeling. They earn patient trust and can end up saving themselves big bucks, too.

"Even if a physician has contributed to a bad outcome, if the patient or their family likes and admires the physician, it's unlikely they will pursue a lawsuit," writes Ultra. How that likability is achieved is by spending quality time with patients. It need not be long, but each visit should be meaningful.

Failure to Set Expectations

Patients are not physicians and they necessarily don't know how medicine is practiced. Some may feel that a good doctor would just know what is wrong, so any changes or delays in diagnosis can be perceived as a failure on the physician's part.

In fact, the failure is not an absent diagnosis but the failure to set patient expectations. Taking the time to explain details will go a long way to alleviating patient anxiety and creating realistic expectations.

When a doctor makes decisions about treatment without taking the time to ensure that patients understand the process, it's risky business for patient and physician alike. An informed patient will take responsibility for health decisions and participate appropriately in any treatment recommended.

A patient who has not been told much about their treatment, or feels that little effort was made to obtain informed consent, will feel resentful. A resentful patient is more likely to sue for medical malpractice than a patient who felt that a physician cared about their opinion.

Dodgy Documentation

Doctors probably would prefer not to think of their patient notes as part of the record in a future lawsuit. But they can be, which is why it is important that physician paperwork accurately reflect actual exchanges.

An attorney will analyze every note, so careful documentation is critical to all parties. Doctor and patient alike are protected by an accurate account.

Using this Info as a Patient: Communication Is Key

For patients, an awareness of what doctors face can help create a healthy relationship. Understanding the pressures your physician is under may enable you to be more sympathetic when a doctor does slip up or have a bad day.

But more importantly, by knowing what constitutes good communication, you can do your part as a patient. Ask questions, insist on understanding whatever a doctor intends to do, and do not be a passive participant in your treatment.

Being an engaged and active communicator is good for everybody, physician and patient alike. And it can prevent major head and heart aches down the line, literally.

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