Risks for Health Care Professionals: What’s at Stake
It’s an age-old question for medical professionals: How do you avoid being named in a malpractice lawsuit? The answer is simple – perform your job to perfection at every moment and everything will turn out just as you expect it to.
The reality is that things are not this simple. Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution to preventing or avoiding the one small misstep that could lead to a malpractice claim. Yes, following best practices in medical care will go a long way in providing optimal care and mitigating the likelihood of breach of care, but that strategy is not entirely infallible… there are risks for health care professionals where least expected.
Hundreds of malpractice claims are made against medical professionals every year. Some cases involve legitimate claims where the standard of care clearly fell short. Others have little merit, stemming from accusations by agitated patients seeking retaliation for not achieving a desired outcome, but are not, in fact, the result of substandard care by a medical team.
It’s important to understand that for a malpractice claim to be sustainable, the acts as performed by the medical practitioner or team (whether done poorly or not at all) must be the direct cause of an injury to a patient, and proven in a court of law.
Getting to the arbitration point of any claim doesn’t happen quickly. And being involved in such a circumstance—no matter the outcome of the claim—can have significant effects on one’s career and livelihood.
The risks for health care professionals can be categorized as follows:
The costs of defending a malpractice claim can vary depending on the scope of the claim and the practitioner’s specialty. But even if a practitioner isn’t found negligible, and therefore owes nothing to the claimant, there are significant expenses associated with defending a claim. The costs of hiring a reputable defense team, expert witnesses and researchers are substantial, easily reaching the tens of thousands of dollars. Factor in the costs of a settlement to a patient if found guilty and, and your overall cost doubles or triples. This can be financially devastating.
The invaluable resource of time is another cost of managing a malpractice claim. It takes hours upon hours to build a solid defense. Time spent on preparation, deposition and trial all adds up to hours away from the office not seeing patients, and not earning income.
Effect on Reputation
Perhaps more unsettling than the financial implications of a malpractice lawsuit is the potential blow to your reputation. It’s one that can have a lasting effect.
A malpractice claim against you signifies that you may not be up-to-date with the most current practices of your specialty; you aren’t practicing according to the latest standard of care, and are thus less competent than your peers. If this allegation is made, and moreover, if it can be proven, there’s a real risk that your reputation will take a hit. When your reputation is called into question, and if it is made public, you run the real risk of losing patients and certainly not gaining new ones.
To overcome a setback of this nature you’ll have to take prudent steps to update your practices and procedures to ensure you’re delivering the current required standards of care.
Being implicated for the care you’ve provided can feel dreadful. You may feel completely offended and hurt, especially if you truly believe that you have not been negligent. And on the other hand, regardless of how a patient’s injury came to be, the knowledge that your actions may be to blame can be very distressing. The stress of a claim and impending lawsuit can have a negative impact on the level of care you continue to provide to your other patients, and can even affect how you manage your medical practice. Depending on how long a case remains open—which can be many months or even years—the level of stress can become overwhelming.
Proper risk management is your best defense when providing health care. Following proper protocol with every patient and procedure and developing honest and caring relationships with your patients are two very effective ways to help reduce the chances of being sued for malpractice. It also makes a lot of financial sense to purchase a Professional Liability (Malpractice) Insurance policy to help offset the financial risks of health care professionals, should the unthinkable occur.