Explaining Your Mistakes: Communication in Medical Malpractice Cases

John Fisher
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Stopping Medical Injustice

In order to reduce the likelihood of being sued for medical malpractice, doctors will often practice defensive medicine.  This is when a doctor will order extra tests, perform extra procedures, or push their patients to have more office visits because they believe that if they don’t then there is a greater chance they will be sued.  However, there have been studies done that don’t support this notion.

 

Getting along with their patients and improving communication may help physicians avoid being sued.  In a study conducted in Florida in 1989 found that a significant predictor of being sued was whether the doctor had been sued previously.  In some ways, a doctor who has been sued is different from those who have not.

 

Maybe they are just bad doctors, and in that case the medical malpractice system is working and there is no reason to complain.  However, this is not necessarily the case.  There were some doctors who were more likely to be sued and it didn’t matter whether the case was eventually found to not have merit.

 

Another study conducted in 1992 spoke with patients about why they filed claims.  That study spoke with mothers who sued physicians because their newborn infant died or suffered permanent injuries.  About a quarter of those mothers said they sued the physician because they “needed money.”  However, there were other answers that were more frequently given that had nothing to do with money.  A third said that their doctor would not speak with them openly.  Half said that their doctor had attempted to mislead them.  Seventy percent said that they had not been warned about the long-term neurodevelopmental problems their children would suffer.

 

In another study, the relationship between the physicians’ history of medical malpractice lawsuits and the satisfaction of their patients was examined.  This study found that if the patient was seeing a doctor who had been sued in the past, they were more likely to report that they felt their doctor rushed them, did not explain why they were undergoing tests, or ignored them.  The doctors who were sued most often had more complaints against them by patients and the most common complaint was poor communication.

 

Primary care physicians who spend more time educating patient about their care, use humor and laugh with patients, and try to get their patients to talk and give their opinions are less likely to be sued.  Unfortunately poor communication is still the norm and changing this will be difficult as many doctors would rather see the policy change rather than have to make changes in themselves.

 

But what do you think?  I would love to hear from you!  Leave a comment or I also welcome your phone call on my toll-free cell at 1-866-889-6882 or you can drop me an e-mail at [email protected]  You are always welcome to request my FREE book, The Seven Deadly Mistakes of Malpractice Victims, at the home page of my website at www.protectingpatientrights.com

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