South Florida Hospital News
Sunday April 11, 2021
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March 2021 - Volume 17 - Issue 9
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Communication Key to Avoiding Malpractice Claims

By the time a physician has been in practice for 40 years, the majority—75 percent of those in low-risk specialties, and 99 percent of those in high-risk specialties—will most likely have been involved in at least one malpractice claim. On average, these claims involve indemnity payments of approximately $300,000 or more, plus any claims expense, and the fallout can follow physicians throughout their careers.

According to Bill Gompers, CFE, healthcare providers’ insurance specialist at Danna-Gracey, the largest independent medical malpractice insurance agency in Florida, the single greatest way that physicians can avoid malpractice claims is through effective communication.
 
“Roughly 80 percent of claims are the result of poor communication and system breakdowns,” he explained. “Not properly communicating with patients and staff can cause problems that could have been nipped in the bud.”
 
Manage Expectations
According to Gompers, physicians should talk to patients as if they were peers, showing empathy, communicating clearly and providing thorough explanations during every point of contact. While many malpractice cases are the result of misdiagnoses or sub-par outcomes, others grow out of patient dissatisfaction.
 
“You can be kind and gentle, and still be brutally honest,” he said. “If a patient says that they’re not taking their medications, rather than say, ‘It’s okay if you forget,’ you need to explain that they are at increased risk, and document that conversation.
 
“Physicians also need to manage expectations; you can’t promise that a patient will have a good outcome,” he added. “One of the best ways to approach these conversations is to under promise and over deliver.”
 
Documentation Vital
Having a complete and accurate medical record is extremely important in protecting physicians from malpractice cases, but with increasing use of technology, this can sometimes be an issue.
 
“We used to advise physicians to ‘write very well,’ but now many practices are using digital records that are more checkbox-style than freestyle,” said Gompers. “Some people using these systems just check off the boxes, which may not tell the whole story, or they are too rushed to include their comments.
 
“If you don’t document what you talked about with the patient in the medical record, you can’t prove that it was done,” he added. “It may not seem like a big deal to check the wrong box or to skip a step on the EMR’s decision tree, but if you’re put on the stand, any mistake could put you on the defensive.”
 
Stay Up-to-Date
Another way to avoid medical malpractice suits is to stay up-to-date on the latest standards of care. “Medicine is changing all the time, and while the amount of information is voluminous, physicians still have to stay on top of what’s going on in the profession,” said Gompers, giving examples of different surgical techniques, diagnostic tools and medical therapies.
 
“There’s nothing wrong with asking for help,” he added, noting the importance of staying current by consulting with trusted colleagues and through the numerous avenues of continuing education. “Medicine is evolving so quickly that it’s difficult to keep up, but maintaining a practice’s standard of care is imperative.”
 
Informed Consent and Follow-Up
Even if patients sign informed consent forms, it’s imperative that physicians make sure that they understand what they read.
 
“I compare it to adding a new app on your phone; most people just scroll down and hit agree,” said Gompers. “How many people really read and understand the consent, especially now that much of it is digital?”
 
Because most patients see numerous people during a visit, including physician assistants, nurse practitioners and others, it’s important that all providers ask the patient if they have any questions and document their answers.
 
“It can be very confusing for patients to go from provider to provider, especially if they are up in years,” said Gompers. “This type of follow-up is extremely important to patient satisfaction, and to making sure that the patient understands what they’ve been told.”
 
it is also important to make sure that realistic information is relayed. “If you amputate someone’s big toe, you don’t want to say that they will walk fine and run effortlessly after a year of rehab,” said Gompers. “It’s better to talk about how this procedure will improve their quality of life, so that these expectations may reasonably be achieved.”

To learn more about medical malpractice and healthcare providers’ insurance, contact Bill Gompers at bill@dannagracey.com, (888) 777-7173 or visit www.dannagracey.com.

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