Healthcare News & Insights

2 ways to protect your hospital from malpractice lawsuits

The rise of hospitalists has been a boon to many hospitals. But there’s also a threat looming within the trend: An increased risk of malpractice lawsuits.

101410487According to an article in American Medical News, malpractice cases against hospitalists are rising. Because hospitalists are a relatively new breed, data is limited, but trends suggest more patients are bringing suits against hospital doctors.

And as more and more doctors opt to become hospitalists, malpractice suits could skyrocket.

The most common problem

In many cases, employing hospitalists actually protects hospitals. Having dedicated doctors on staff means physicians are more accessible, which helps keep problems surrounding patient treatment to a minimum.

However, mistakes still happen – and they can prove costly. Several recent studies have shown that diagnosis errors are the No. 1 liability issue for hospitalists, with the majority of malpractice claims relating to this problem.

Not every mistake involving a patient’s diagnosis can be prevented. But focusing on fixing two weaknesses in the treatment process may protect your hospital from an expensive settlement.

Improving the handoff

One big problem that’s contributing to diagnosis errors is incomplete handoff conversations. A busy doctor can easily forget to relay important details regarding a patient’s treatment to the next hospitalist coming on board. And even a small omission may lead to a huge lawsuit.

Rushing through the shift change process should be avoided. To improve handoff conversations, doctors should:

  • Limit interruptions: Even if it’s only for a few minutes, hospitalists should place their full focus on the handoff conversation, making sure they’ve relayed all the info necessary for the next doctor to continue the patient’s treatment.
  • Be as thorough as possible: No detail is too small to mention. Discuss the patient’s current condition and diagnosis, along with any anticipated changes or potential risks.
  • Ask for a repeat: After giving all required info to the next doctor, have the person repeat it back to ensure nothing was misunderstood.

Making a connection

Another area where improvement is needed deals with something that many hospitals and their staff may not even consider: Strengthening the personal connection between patients and doctors in a hospital.

Patients are more likely to feel dissatisfied with their care if it’s delivered by someone who makes no effort to get to know them on a personal level. And they also may not feel comfortable discussing their health with a relative stranger, so they may not share all the necessary details.

It takes years for people to build up a relationship with a primary care doctor. Most patients won’t be in the hospital that long. So most hospitalists are already starting at a disadvantage.

It goes both ways, too:  Hospitalists who don’t have a full understanding of their patients and their conditions may not provide the most appropriate treatment, which could lead to issues such as missed diagnoses or medication errors.

To combat a lack of personal connection, it’s best to promote an environment in your hospital where doctors attempt to forge a relationship with patients from the very start.

Though hospitalists are busy, this extra effort doesn’t take much. Have doctors sit down once they enter a patient’s room and introduce themselves. Encourage them to look directly at patients when speaking, using clear language they can understand. Tell doctors to directly ask patients if they have any questions.

Having hospitalists take a few more minutes to speak one-on-one with each patient can prevent months of legal headaches down the line.

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