Healthcare lawyers can help with a wide range of compliance, transactional and healthcare litigation issues. They can help you navigate third-party payor compliance, disputes and audits, as well as malpractice claims.
In a litigious society, physicians must be prepared for the possibility of being sued. Detailed documentation and clear communication are the keys to successfully defending yourself against unwanted allegations.
1. Educate Yourself
Regardless of the specific circumstances, medical malpractice litigation is complex. Physicians may face a lengthy legal battle that involves several different types of documents and court proceedings such as interrogatory, depositions, and hearings. This can be a very stressful time for healthcare professionals and their families.
It is important for attorneys and their clients to familiarize themselves with the process of a medical malpractice lawsuit by understanding the basics. For example, pleadings are the documents that begin a lawsuit and outline the basic facts. The pleadings will also include the type of damages sought by the plaintiff.
The current system of medical litigation is driving up health care costs, threatening Americans’ access to high quality healthcare, and impeding efforts to improve the quality of health care. It is critical to fight for a more efficient, fair, and affordable system that reduces unnecessary costs and prevents defensive medicine. Keep up with the latest developments in health care law by using Practical Law’s constantly updated documentation, insights, and analysis. This will allow you to be more prepared for new and challenging matters and save unbillable hours spent on research.
2. Organize Your Evidence
All medical procedures and treatments carry a certain amount of risk. Doctors make every effort to select the best procedures and tests for their patients but sometimes the results can be less than perfect. A bad outcome can lead to a lawsuit, especially if it is alleged that the doctor ignored or mistreated the patient.
Disputes also can involve healthcare payments and re-payment systems, as well as a wide range of employment issues. Disputes in this area are complex and often require the expertise of lawyers who are familiar with both healthcare laws and business law.
During the discovery process, which is when each party collects information about the other and their case, it is important that all evidence is organized. Using color-coded folders or labels on storage boxes can help ensure that the right information is found when it is needed. Nothing will rattle a lawyer’s flow in the courtroom like being unable to find crucial evidence in the moment it is needed. Keeping all the pieces of evidence in one place will ensure this does not happen.
3. Keep Records
Whether they are battling to get fair reimbursement for services rendered, arguing with patients or doctors about the quality of care received, or navigating complex healthcare payment and re-payment systems, medical practices, hospitals, and other institutions often find themselves in disputes. These disputes require expert legal representation.
One of the most important things a healthcare practitioner can do is to keep meticulous records. This documentation is vitally important for any case involving malpractice. It gives the jury a window into the medical professional’s practice.
A well-documented record shows a diligent and caring physician who has gone above and beyond to ensure that the patient receives quality care. However, a poorly documented record can paint the doctor as negligent and incompetent.
It is also important that medical practices and providers remain strict in limiting access to these records. Erasing or changing any part of a medical record is a violation of privacy laws. It can also lead to a conviction for perjury. Medical records should only be accessed under strict lawful pretenses. Lastly, reasonable limits on non-economic damages, such as those in California, help reduce the litigation crisis by restraining insurance premium increases.
4. Stay Honest
Excessive litigation imposes large indirect costs on the healthcare system, increasing the cost of care for all Americans through out-of-pocket expenses and insurance premiums. Defensive medicine caused by uncapped and unpredictable liability awards increases patients’ risk while lowering quality. Studies show that reasonable limits on non-economic damages, like those in California, reduce medical costs 5-9% without reducing patient safety or adding to patient injury.
A key component of the solution is open communication among doctors and their staff. Once the vice grip of defensiveness was released, reporting of incidents skyrocketed, and patients’ recovery accelerated. When physicians are honest with their patients about medical errors, the results are better for everyone involved. Achieving this level of honesty requires trust that may not be rebuilt once it is broken.
In many cases, medical malpractice lawsuits never reach the courtroom and are completely worked out in a mediation process. This is largely because of effective communication between the health care professional and the insurance company.
Physicians must communicate with patients to obtain informed consent for treatment, and they must document all interactions. Breakdowns in communication can have devastating medico-legal consequences, such as failure to disclose test results, patient dissatisfaction with information provided, and physician dishonesty.
There are several different communication tools that can help physicians improve patient-physician relationships and prevent medical mistakes. One such tool is the AIDET model, which includes seven core components: Acknowledge, Introduce, Explain, Assess, Teach and Thank you. Another is the partnership model, which promotes physician empathy and encourages patients to participate in their own care.
In addition to improving patient outcomes, effective communication can reduce stress and improve workplace morale. Nurses and medical experts must learn how to organize their communications, understand an attorney’s expectations, and work efficiently with attorneys to ensure a successful case outcome.