Still, even in a landscape of limited information, there are a few rules of thumb otolaryngologists should live by when it comes to managing their exposure to malpractice cases, according to interviews with a half-dozen health care professionals interviewed by ENTtoday:
Explore This IssueOctober 2013
1) Focus on communication skills and a thorough use of the informed consent process. Think of the consent process less in terms of getting a patient to sign a form and more in the vein of bedside manner.
2) Be diligent in documentation in charts, consent forms and pre- or post-operative notes. That information can be invaluable in later legal proceedings.
3) Avoid the practice of “defensive medicine.” Ordering tests and procedures that aren’t clinically necessary may seem as if it can serve as a protection from later lawsuits, but can add significantly to health care costs.
4) Be aware of how your coverage works. Is there “tail coverage” that protects you from incidents that happened at an institution where you no longer practice?
To be sure, many of the same tenets of being a productive otolaryngologist with high patient satisfaction scores—maintaining manageable patient loads, focusing on patient centeredness and employing checklists, technology and regimented protocols to reduce adverse events—translate very well to being a lower-risk otolaryngologist in relation to malpractice cases.
“The two goals are often very much in tandem,” Dr. Sewell added. “You provide better patient care, you’re going to therefore lower your risk of being sued in a medical malpractice claim. And, as a specialty, I hope we continue to focus on these efforts and try to develop better data sets and better ways in which to prevent claims and, therefore, provide better patient care.”
And the timing to tie those threads together could not be better, said John Meara, MD, DMD, MBA, plastic surgeon-in-chief at Children’s Hospital Boston. He believes the process reforms of the past few years could serve as a springboard to national liability reform, including health courts and other initiatives that physicians think would help deal with frivolous lawsuits, especially because much of the subject matter has been discussed at American College of Surgeons meetings over the past few years.
“Now is an excellent time,” Dr. Meara added. “We’re in an era of health care reform in general, and the Obama administration has been willing to voice concerns about medical liability issues. They espoused some of the alternative type of approaches … now is the time to take a look at some of the alternatives discussed.”