In the complex world of healthcare, doctors often find themselves navigating difficult waters of medical malpractice claims. With the potential for lengthy legal battles and substantial financial consequences, it’s essential for medical professionals to be proactive in reducing their litigation risk. If you’re a doctor, how can you safeguard your career and practice should you be accused of medical malpractice? Here are seven things you can do:
1. Keep comprehensive records
In an age where time blurs memories, impeccable record keeping becomes your knight in shining armour and is your best defence should you face any kind of legal action. Any medical records you keep should be legible, clear, and comprehensive – illegible records make it impossible for your legal team to give you the assistance you need. If you do keep paper records, keep electronic records as backup.
2. Ensure you practice informed consent
Finally, avoid the legal whirlpool by ensuring patients are well-informed. The legal and medical landscape are also constantly evolving, so ensure that you stay informed in those areas too. Compliance with HPCSA, National Health Act, and Health Professions Act is paramount, and you should develop practice protocols and train your staff thoroughly.
3. Cover yourself with Medical Malpractice / Professional Indemnity cover
Don’t underestimate the importance of Medical Malpractice / Professional Indemnity coverage in preventing your practicing crumbling as a result of litigation costs. Ensure that you keep pace with medical advances and be aware that medical tech advances can inflate claim sizes. Remember to renew your policy to prevent it from expiring, and make sure that your cover matches your expertise.
4. Communicate effectively with your patients
Patients often keep their thoughts to themselves unless prompted otherwise. But patient satisfaction is absolutely key to a successful practice: studies show that disgruntled patients are more likely to sue. For this reason, prioritise communication with your patients as the bridge to build lasting trust, which can help you avoid any malpractice claims in the first place.
5. Learning to apologise: harness the power of empathy
Apologies aren’t admissions of guilt – they’re expressions of humanity. At the same time though, a formal apology can sometimes help you avoid litigation. If you do apologise, do so carefully while emphasising empathy rather than liability.
6. Stand your ground
Lawyers’ letters can be intimidating, but don’t be a pushover. Remember that legal liability must be proven, and “the facts speak for themselves” does not apply when it comes to medical malpractice.
7. Don’t ignore legal complaints
If you do get a legal complaint or action taken against you, ignoring it is the worst thing you can do and can make the situation even more serious. The first thing to do is notify your insurer who will advise you on next steps to take. Remember that they’re your allies in getting you through any kind of legal situation to do with your practice.
Mastering the art of managing medical malpractice risk is about being proactive, informed and assertive. With these strategies in your toolkit, you’ll be better equipped to navigate the healthcare landscape with confidence.
To learn more about litigation risk and how best to manage it as a healthcare practitioner, listen to this interview with specialist attorneys Justin Malherbe and Sandra Sithole.
(Taken from: Summons, Not what the Doctor Ordered)