Document patients' failure to receive care

When a patient sues you for malpractice, it's a real possibility that he or she won't be telling lawyers, judge or jury the truth. The following case described in Renal & Urology News serves as a cautionary tale for avoiding a 'he said, she said' defense.

This story begins when Mr. U visited Dr. F, a urologist in a three-physician practice, after being referred by another physician for complaints of blood in his urine and pain during urination. After examining the patient, Dr. F diagnosed Mr. U with a urinary tract infection and provided treatment. When the patient returned for his follow-up two weeks later, apparently recovered, Dr. F told him to come back to the office if he experienced any further problems.

Then, according to Dr. F, on two separate occasions--one month after the follow-up and again six months later--Mr. U called the office saying that the original symptoms had returned. Both times, the doctor told his receptionist to have the patient come in. And both times, Dr. F and his receptionist allege, Mr. U failed to show.

Unfortunately, Dr. F's receptionist never documented telling Mr. U to come to the office, and therefore had no proof to dispute the patient's testimony that he'd been told numerous times on the phone that it was unnecessary to come in. Mr. U sued Dr. F for medical malpractice, claiming he had failed to make a timely diagnosis of his kidney cancer, which had by then spread to both lungs.

The jury found Dr. F 53 percent negligent and the plaintiff 47 percent comparatively negligent. Although the jury awarded the plaintiff $500,000, the fine was reduced by the amount of the plaintiff's negligence.

According to Ann W. Latner, JD, clear record keeping could have absolved Dr. F of most, if not all, liability in this case.

To learn more:
- read the story in Renal & Urology News