There are approximately 20,000 medical malpractice cases filed against physicians each year, and that number continues to rise due to a number of reasons. First, patients are becoming increasingly aware of their rights and the responsibilities of doctors, and are therefore quicker to pull the “clinical negligence” card in hopes of reaping a hefty settlement. However, while only 20% of malpractice claims are actually honored, many of the cases do involve a legitimate mistake on behalf of the physician or their staff. To reduce the likelihood of being accused of clinical negligence it is important to minimize error potential and limit liabilities by taking the following actions:
Adhere to Strict Communication Protocol
A large percentage of negligence claims stem from communication lapses, which is why it is necessary to develop precise procedures that dictate how patient-to-staff and staff-to-staff communication is conducted.
- Ensuring Efficient and Accurate Communication Amongst Staff
All messages, whether verbal or written, should be transmitted and received in a manner that protects against the possibility of misinterpretation, mistranslation, or accidental overlooking. Staff should be equipped with the necessary utilities to facilitate optimal correspondence, including a pen and notebook at a minimum. It’s also wise to schedule regular staff meetings in order to assess individual performance and determine whether there are operational issues that need to be resolved.
- Collaborating With External Parties
When other physicians, labs, or hospitals call your office regarding a patient it is absolutely imperative to make a record of all vital details while taking a message. Determine the call’s priority by asking whether it is an urgent matter, and don’t forget to record the date/time of every call and verify the correct spelling of the calling party’s name. Likewise, you must remember to provide this information when calling another office about a patient.
When noting lab results and other detailed data you should always read back whatever you’ve written to verify accuracy. Laboratory, pathology, and radiology reports should always be shown to and initialed by the physician before being added to the patient’s record. Inform the intended receiver as soon as possible, especially when the degree of urgency is high.
- Being Attentive to Patient Needs
Although this should be an intuitive behavior amongst healthcare workers, most clinical negligence cases arise from failure to pay attention to patient concerns and needs. Never ignore a patient’s question, even if it seems silly or unwarranted. As a healthcare professional you have a duty to not only assist in the treatment of a patient’s medical condition, but also to make them feel comfortable throughout the process.
Keep a Thorough Record of All Events
If you are accused of clinical negligence and the case is brought to court, you’ll need to be able to prove that your staff acted in accordance with proper medical procedure.
- Documenting Appointment History and Follow-Up Correspondence
All missed/cancelled appointments should be recorded in the patient’s chart and brought to the attention of the physician as soon as possible. Furthermore, follow-up calls should be scheduled to check up with the patient after any missed/cancelled appointment.
- Exercising Caution With Billing
Any billing/collection errors need to be corrected promptly in order to maintain patient satisfaction. If a patient expresses dissatisfaction with the services of the doctor the issue must be dealt with urgently.
- Rechecking the Patient’s Allergies and Medical Conditions Before Administering Anything
While this is standard protocol in all medical facilities, most of the negligence claims that are honored are related to allergic reactions and complications caused by conditions/allergies that had already been made known to personnel. Emphasize the importance of rechecking patient allergies and medical conditions before administering any kind of drug or treatment.
Operate and Maintain Equipment Properly
Improper equipment usage accounts for a considerable percentage of malpractice claims. Here a couple ways to avoid such occurrences:
- Ensuring the Competency of Machine Operators
Staff members that are responsible for operating equipment should be thoroughly trained and should be able to illustrate their competence by passing a test or utilizing the equipment under the supervision of other staff. All electrical equipment should be properly grounded, and any potentially defective machines should be immediately set aside for examination and repair.
- Designating Qualified Supervisors
Studies have shown that clinical negligence cases are less likely to occur when there are two or more healthcare professionals tending to the patient at once. This is especially true when it comes to trusting a newer nurse/assistant to operate equipment that could be hazardous if misused.
Double-Check Everything and Train Staff To Do The Same
False certainty can lead to poor decision-making because it causes you base your actions on misinformation. Verifying, double-checking, and following up are three crucial steps in preventing clinical negligence claims.
- Paying Attention to Detail
All doctors and healthcare professionals should know that it is their responsibility to pay attention to detail on a regular basis; not only to recognize when there are pertinent issues that need to be resolved, but also to facilitate an accurate diagnosis and treatment based on observation of the patient’s symptoms. If you’re observant of the patient’s condition at all times there is no way negligence can come into play.
- Asking the Patient How They’re Doing
Finally, the easiest way to know that a patient is satisfied is to simply ask them how they’re doing every once in a while. Most cases of clinical negligence could be avoided with a bit of care and consideration.
Marie Swanson is an avid health blogger and devoted med-school student. She hopes this carefully authored post will contribute towards a decrease in medical negligence claims by helping healthcare workers gain a fuller understanding of malpractice prevention.