Healthcare News & Insights

How to lower your hospital’s risk of malpractice lawsuits

Do you know what patients report as the most important decision-making factor when they’re contemplating filing a lawsuit?

It’s poor doctor-patient communication.

So if you want to lower your hospital’s  risk of malpractice lawsuits, promote better doctor-patient communication at all times.

In an article written by Kevin Pho, an internal medicine physician, and founder and editor of, Alan Woodward, chairman of the Massachusetts Medical Society’s committee on professional liability, says the threat of lawsuits for medical mistakes “creates a culture of secrecy and fear.” Hospitals and physicians need to eliminate that threat by promoting open and honest doctor-patient communication, before AND after a medical mistake happens.

According to a November 2011 study from The Journal of the American College of Surgeons, doctors who are sued have a higher rate of burnout, depression and suicide. And doctors who are depressed and/or burnt out, make a lot more medical mistakes than those who aren’t.

So stave off malpractice suits and your facility willl have far fewer depressed/burnt out doctors and, therefore, fewer medical mistakes.

Plus doctors who take the time to talk to their patients and explain what’s going in a way patients understand better, create a relationship and bond with their patients. And patients who are bonded with their doctors are much less likely to sue them.

Bad outcomes aren’t always due to physician error

It’s also important for patients to realize the risks involved in what they’re going through. Doctors need to clearly explain what can happen even when they do everything right.

Take for instance the example that Dr. Pho gave in his article: Even when a colonoscopy is performed correctly, complications can unexpectedly occur, such as a bleed or a tear in the colon.

Another study from the New England Journal of Medicine examined nearly 1,500 malpractice claims and found 37% didn’t involve any medical errors.

However, if a physician does make an error, the last thing they should do is hide it. Hiding things, and keeping the patient and his or her family in the dark just breeds mistrust and anger.

What should be done: The physician should fully explain what happened, apologize for the mistake and, when necessary, the hospital should compensate the patient.

Now most hospital lawyers will tell physicians not to apologize, but that’s wrong. When patients and their families see that the doctor is empathetic to their situation and truly sorry, they are more understanding.

That’s why some states have enacted laws protecting apologies from being used against a doctor in court. Now all states need to adopt such a law. Because when doctors are open about their mistakes, other physicians can learn from them and prevent future mishaps from occurring.



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