With various provisions of the Affordable Care Act taking effect, trial lawyers like James A. Morris, Jr. fear that the increase in insured patients seeking treatment from doctors may translate to an increase in medical malpractice suits. After all, if more people have insurance, more people will seek medical care. And with a greater volume of patient-doctor interactions, there’s a chance for a greater number of medical malpractice lawsuits for a variety of professionals in allied health fields.
Though this logic has been disputed by the American Medical Association, the fear of malpractice suits will likely have a resounding effect on medical practices unsure of what to expect when previously uninsured patients seek medical attention in the coming years.
So how can you prevent a costly malpractice suit from financially devastating your practice? Luckily, there are several steps you can take to protect your practice.
3 tips to prevent medical malpractice suits at your medical or healthcare practice
Chances are you’re currently covered by medical malpractice insurance. As a healthcare professional, it’s a huge risk to operate without this protection, and may be illegal in your state. But even if you have a plan capable of protecting you financially from legal bills and settlements, you’ll still have to pour time and energy into defending yourself if you’re hit with a malpractice claim.
Here are three tips to help you avoid wasting valuable resources on fighting malpractice suits.
- Undergo a comprehensive risk assessment. It’s important to point out that a risk assessment can go beyond the standard prevention you’d expect for medical practitioners. This includes improvements that any medical office can make in order to allow the patient to have a pleasant experience and thus decrease the likelihood of malpractice lawsuits. Areas to focus on include missed appointments, medical management, and how to deal with disruptive patients, among others. Properly documenting your patients’ medical records, for instance, can be your best defense against malpractice lawsuits – especially if you take detailed notes and maintain an objective viewpoint in your recordings.
- Communicate with your patients. The better understanding your patients have of the treatment they’re receiving, the less likely you’ll be to take on a malpractice suit. Consider the case of Dr. Robert Rutkowski, a surgeon from Virginia. He was accused of causing a patient permanent damage during surgery performed on her clavicle. One issue that arose during the malpractice trial was that Dr. Rutkowski hadn’t told the patient that he was planning to use a procedure different from the one previously discussed. It’s possible that the lawsuit could’ve been avoided with better communication between the doctor and patient; specifically, Rutkowski could have been more upfront about the suture he used in lieu of screws. It's entirely possible that lawsuits will still be filed against you regardless of how much you communicate with your patients. However, improved communication greatly reduces your risk of lawsuits down the road.
- Understand the insurance policies you need to stay protected. Each malpractice insurance policy is different, and as such it’s important to understand what inclusions are best for your practice. For instance, if you’re a phlebotomist or work in another field that requires you to draw blood, you should look for a policy that has needlestick coverage. This coverage protects you from the risks associated with needlework and is crucial for phlebotomists, paramedics, and dialysis technicians. That’s why it’s important to speak with an agent about the specific risks you face – leave no stone unturned when it comes to maintaining the longevity of your medical practice.
No matter how much effort you put into preventing malpractice suits, some factors are simply out of your control. And with new healthcare insurance requirements going into effect in the coming months, the effect on malpractice coverage will be unclear for some time.