Being an excellent clinician is no guarantee against malpractice claims. An article in the American Medical News last month reported that even though most physicians will be sued at least once during their career, the majority of cases are without merit. According to a study issued in the New England Journal of Medicine, 7.4 percent of physicians experience a medical liability claim each year, while 1.6 percent of those sued make payments to plaintiffs.
Whether this information is good news or bad news is in the eye of the beholder. It is a fact that being sued causes a tremendous amount of stress on the physicians, costs money regardless whether they win or lose the case, affects their self-esteem and their confidence in practicing medicine, and determines their decision how much longer they will sustain their medical career.
Reading this could almost mean that you are susceptible to your patients decision to sue without having any influence. But this is not the case. Research has also proven that malpractice lawsuits can be avoided or minimized, and here I mention two suggestions:
1. Stress control and self-care
Research and experience have shown that increased fatigue and sleepiness were associated with increased odds of reporting an error. Whereas an increased quality of life was associated with a decrease in the odds. Taking good care of yourself, controlling stress in your life, and being content with life have a lot to do with how you show up in your practice and how focused you are with each patients. The more you live in the present moment without any distraction, the less likely you will cause errors that lead to major complications.
2. Be an excellent communicator
Malpractice insurers and attorneys have long said this, and researchers from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine have proven that there is a strong link between the number of patient complaints filed against doctors and their bedside manner. In other words, nice doctors get sued less. Open and direct communication, empathy, and being present with your patients and their families during visits builds a strong partnership and can dramatically reduce your susceptibility to lawsuits.
Even though patients do what they do and many times you have no control over their actions, you do have control over how well you take care of yourself and how effective you are in the communication with your patients.
Iris Grimm is the creator of the Balanced Physician programs. She provides physicians a comprehensive support system to meet their unique work, life, and leadership challenges. For more information visit www.BalancedPhysician.com.