These are the ten rules that can prevent you from getting sued.
1. Good patient relationships are essential. Ultimately patients are angry because they feel that their physicians aren’t being honest with them or that they don’t care. They recommend sitting down to talk with them and also give them time to speak as well.
2. Be thorough in your clinical assessment and your treatment. Seek help if the diagnosis is difficult or the case is complex. Remember to refer back to old records to help to make a comprehensive assessment. Read the nurses note. Look at the meds and make sure it sounds compatible. Check their allergies.
3. Be as comfortable with the procedures you are performing as possible, and ask for help if you need it. Don’t do a procedure if you aren’t totally comfortable doing it and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
4. Never guarantee the result of your treatment of a patient. Don’t give promises that you can keep. It’s better to let patients know of the complications that might occur and make them understand it.
5. Be aware of the implications of informed consent. Informed consent means not only that they signed the permission to do a procedure but that they also understand it. Make sure they understand the benefits and the risks.
6. Personally confirm the patient’s identity, and the specific location (side) where/on which a procedure is to be performed. When a friend of mine had his knee operation done a few years back, he made sure that he drew a smiley face and an arrow that pointed to the right knee. I wouldn’t put an “x” because either it may mean “x marks the spot” or “x means do not go here”.
7. Never criticize another healthcare professional’s work. This is just plain unprofessional especially if done in front of the patient. Do not slight another provider in the medical record as well.
8. Respect patient confidentiality and privacy. Make sure that the elevator talk stops. If someone overhears, it’s just unprofessional and is another power motivating factor in the plaintiff’s decision to proceed with a case.
9. Document all clinically pertinent information in the medical record, objectively and contemporaneously or, as close to the time care is given as possible. Remember that there is a statute of limitations of usually a year or two that a case can be brought up. But also remember that a child has the right to sue until the age of 18 to bring a case. Its remember to keep records that are good b/c you will not remember a case that is so far back and never alter the record or add to it for self serving reasons.
10. Support the quality improvement processes of the hospital. Fill out an incident report for any unusual circumstance that may affect patient care, and route it to the risk manager or other designated recipient. It’s critical that you take advantage of the legal aid that is available to the hospital if you are in doubt of any situation or if any situation arises.
Overall, I think the general message is to ultimately develop a good rapport with your patients and with the right amount of medical knowledge and practice; you can prevent most litigation before it occurs. However, everyone will get sued at some point in their lives so make sure that you take advantage of the legal assistance that is afforded to you by your hospital or employer.