A wealth of tips can be found for the prevention of medical malpractice lawsuits, but the truth is, there is no way to prevent someone from filing a lawsuit for malpractice. However, there are many things that can be done which can lessen the risks of a patient wanting to sue, as well as greatly reducing the likelihood of losing such a lawsuit, should one be filed.
The following tips can be part of an effective risk management program. If you don’t already have an aggressive risk management program in place at your practice or healthcare facility, you are statistically more likely to be the target of such a suit and more at risk of being unable to successfully defend against one.
The potential for being named in a malpractice lawsuit has nothing to do with your level of expertise, previous success rate or where you studied medicine. The fact is that a lawsuit may be brought against you even though no error was made or as a result of a situation which no physician could reasonably foresee. And there is certainly no shortage of cases in which the named physician was blameless, but actions (or inactions) by others created an issue. As a medical practitioner, you can still find yourself named in a malpractice lawsuit despite your best efforts to protect your patients and yourself.
So the ultimate tip would be: simply ensure that no mistakes are made. While you may say, “more easily said than done,” this is where a comprehensive risk management program can literally save your future and that of your practice.
Risk management programs actually help in two distinct fashions:
- They afford you and your staff the opportunity to proactively avoid mistakes that could lead to a medical malpractice claim.
- When properly implemented and enforced, they demonstrate a proactive effort to ensure high quality of patient care. This can greatly reduce, or even eliminate, your liability in the event of litigation.
If you have ever had to endure a malpractice claim, you were probably inundated with advice, after the fact. You may have heeded that advice going forward. But as hindsight, it did you no good at the time.
A risk management specialist can offer you that advice now, before you are faced with the ugly realities of a malpractice lawsuit. Find one that specializes in helping his clients avoid, rather than settle.
Meanwhile, here are four tips describing measures that you can implement to lessen your risk:
Review the standards and practices employed by yourself and your staff. Ideally, this is best undertaken by a disinterested third party service, specializing in med-mal risk management. It should involve a meticulous analysis of all potential risks, such as patient care, equipment certification and maintenance, procedures, checks and verifications, records … virtually any other aspect which has the potential of contributing to a breakdown in the quality of care provided.
Understandably, there are a great many aspects of your practice that can fall into this category. They should all be examined, and the audit team will evaluate the risk of each, making specific recommendations to mitigate those risks and assist you in establishing procedures to ensure ongoing implementation of corrective measures.
Training is the heart of risk management. Regardless of whether all your staff carries their own med-mal insurance coverage, the buck will stop with the physician that owns the practice, regardless of who might be found at fault. Your staff must be thoroughly familiar with your risk management measures, understand their importance and know that total compliance is essential. You, as the responsible physician, must enforce that compliance.
3. Stress Test
This refers to performing an analysis of past small claims that may have been settled out of court, or hypothetical issues that seem possible, after viewing vulnerabilities in a practice’s procedures. The process helps identify areas that are weak, either procedurally or in compliance, and can provide valuable assistance in strengthening your practice’s risk management posture.
Achieving accreditation by an independent organization such as JCAHO (Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations), which performs periodic on-site surveys of procedures and compliance, can be very helpful in maintaining both awareness of and compliance with established risk management measures.
Adding these four measures to your practice’s toolset can prevent mishaps, while strengthening your position in the event of a formal lawsuit. It also offers the obvious benefit of helping you maintain high standards of patient care, and can be instrumental in lowering insurance premiums, due to the attendant reduction in claims.
Some claims can result in litigation, of course, in spite of your best efforts to avoid them. But having an exacting risk management program in practice will reduce your vulnerability a great deal and facilitate a successful defense. It will also offer the additional benefit of helping you find ways to improve the quality of care your practice provides.