Because of their inside knowledge of medicine, physicians turned plaintiffs' attorneys can prove formidable opponents in malpractice cases. In a recent Medscape Today article, these physicians-lawyers shared a number of insights that could help you avoid getting sued.
Consider the following tips:
Keep physician-patient communication open. A common remark that patients make to attorneys: "After surgery, the doctor just wouldn't talk to me anymore. He must be covering something up," noted Armand Leone, a radiologist-attorney in Glen Rock, N.J. While for years, attorneys and liability insurers urged physicians to keep mum when something went wrong, the argument for fessing up and apologizing for errors is gaining momentum. In fact, nearly 34 states and the District of Columbia have adopted "apology laws" that protect parts of a doctor's conversation as evidence of liability in a lawsuit, Manoj Jain, M.D., pointed out in a recent column for The Washington Post.
Determine who is taking care of the whole patient. Attorneys who spoke with Medscape relayed stories of clinicians not acting on information because they thought someone else was taking care of the problem or not receiving necessary information at all in the confusion of multiple conflicting orders. 'The problem usually isn't that a doctor or nurse screwed up," said Clark Newhall, a surgeon-attorney in Salt Lake City. "It's a systemic problem, where no one directly communicates vital information."
Rule out the worst. "Doctors have to watch out for representational bias or recency bias," said Leone. "Three people come in with the flu, but the fourth one could have pneumonia. Physicians need to ask themselves what the worst thing that could be going on is. Just taking the time to answer that question can get you out of this trap."