It’s one of the most harrowing challenges that any doctor or practice manager can face. A medical malpractice lawsuit can, at best, be a significant financial burden and, at worst, end careers and businesses. But what do you do if you’re at the center of one? These tips are in no way equivalent to legal advice, of course. Here are just a few of the pieces of advice that might help you ensure that you’re not making things harder on you or your legal team.
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First of all, remember to stay as calm as you can. There is no doubt that an accusation of medical malpractice, as with any legal problem in business, will be a drain on you. Emotionally and financially, it can be quite troubling. However, the case isn’t going to be resolved for a while, so avoid doing anything rash, don’t react to the accusation, and consider your next move carefully. Any decisions made in haste are very likely to look back when looking back at it, especially given how the plaintiff’s attorney may choose to phrase it.
Get risk management involved
Risk management is there to look at and to mitigate the probabilities of damage, injury, and liability loss caused by avoidable circumstances and vulnerabilities in how your practice takes care of patients. As such, the very first thing you should do is to get in touch with your risk management office in the hospital. They will make sure that you go through the proper processes laid out by your malpractice guidelines, such as getting you in touch with the attorney that you need. If you don’t have a risk management office, then you will need to retain a lawyer on your own and, otherwise, make sure that you have a risk management policy set up for next time.
Be sure to report
This is likely to be part of the risk management process, but if it isn’t, then you are going to have to get in touch with your medical malpractice insurance provider on their own. They should be informed in advance of any case starting, as soon as you have been accused of malpractice by a plaintiff or their attorney. Medical malpractice insurance isn’t just there to cover the costs if you have to end up paying the plaintiff. It is also there to help you cover the costs of simply defending yourself. Lacking this insurance can put you at a great financial disadvantage. Failing to notify your medical malpractice insurance provider could mean that you lose coverage when you should have got it.
Don’t try to get in touch with the patient
If you read the recommendation that you shouldn’t try to open communication with someone who is suing you, then the common sense behind that advice can seem obvious enough. However, in the thick of that moment, you might think that you could solve this whole misunderstanding if only you could have a civil conversation with the patient. However, that is almost always bound to be a mistake. Don’t think of them as a patient alone, but as a plaintiff, and don’t talk to them or their attorney. They are now opposing you. Discussing any aspects of the case could give them ammo to try and prove inconsistencies, motives, or other factors that can end up harming your case. Do all of your talking through your attorney.
Review the medical records of the case
All modern hospitals are required to use electronic record-keeping systems in their practice, also known as EMR systems. These ERM systems are going to have all the records of the case available so that you can review them and pinpoint any aspects that might lead to evidence of malpractice. You need to know what happened, what was documented, and you communicated these events in the records. Do not, under any circumstances, try to edit or alter the records as they are. The electronic medical record audit trails will easily find any evidence of tampering, when it was done, and where. Anyone who does the necessary fact-finding on your systems will find it, so don’t make things worse by trying to clarify any records after the fact, whatever you do.
Don’t talk too freely about the case
If you have any questions or opinions about the case, you should best save them for the legal team and the risk management consultants. Your colleagues, office staff, and other professional acquaintances are probably not going to want to get too involved in the case. Furthermore, anyone that you discuss the case with may be called to testify, which can not only be embarrassing but can also frey your professional relationships. They do not want to get involved in your legal disputes. Furthermore, you should avoid mentioning feelings of stress or other emotional turmoil to other members of staff. Look for the support you need in your personal life, not your professional life. The less you talk about the case, the lower your chances of creating some risk for yourself.
Do what you can to avoid malpractice suits in future
It’s not always possible to completely remove yourself from the risk of a lawsuit in the future. The health care industry is one that inherently puts you in contact with risk. However, you can make sure that you follow strict record-keeping policies to ensure that every action is recorded, proofread, and communicated clearly. Otherwise, taking additional steps towards clarification and decision making when necessary is essential for avoiding risky calls. If you aren’t certain about a diagnosis or a path of treatment, then take the time to get in touch with a colleague or consider referring the patient to them entirely. Do what you can to make sure that you observe your duties as comprehensively as possible.
Beyond reading any advice about how to handle medical malpractice online, don’t forget that it’s your legal team who are going to have the wisdom best suited to your needs. Make sure you have representation and make sure you take their advice with the utmost consideration.