Patient trust does not protect doctors from malpractice risk

A recent study published in the November issue of Medical Care reveals good news and bad news for physicians regarding the disclosure of medical errors. On the positive side, a 2008 survey of a representative sample of Illinois residents showed that patients who trusted that their doctors would admit to making a mistake still might be willing to recommend that physician to others.

However, researchers from the University of Illinois found that only 10 percent of the more than 1,000 participants believed their doctors would be "very likely" to tell them if a medical error occurred. What's more, patients' trust that their doctors would disclose errors made them no less likely to sue. Even after being told about a mistake and offered remediation, 27 percent of patients said they would sue the doctor for malpractice.

Given this scenario, then, it's not surprising that growing numbers of healthcare providers have begun asking patients to sign an arbitration agreement. A physician-patient prenup of sorts, an arbitration agreement signed by the patient would generally require that all disputes related to the medical care and/or treatment provided by the physician or other healthcare provider be resolved through binding arbitration rather than a court of law, according to MD News.

While the benefits of arbitration include lower legal fees, quicker resolution and the ability to keep the matter private, courts throughout the country will examine the enforceability of each arbitration on a case-by-case basis, wrote attorneys Stan T. Ingram and Pamela S. Ratliff. In particular, a court will look at whether an individual entered an arbitration agreement voluntarily, as well as the fairness of particular provisions.

Before asking patients to sign arbitration agreements, it is essential that healthcare organizations consult both an attorney and their medical malpractice carriers, they added.

To learn more:
- read the HealthDay News article from DoctorsLounge
- see the abstract of the study in Medical Care
- check out the MD News piece about arbitration agreements