AAP Finds Communication Key in Avoiding Medical Malpractice
Though we all hope that our doctors will work their absolute hardest to provide quality care to all patients all the time, it is reasonable to wonder if your individual relationship with your doctor will impact the quality of your medical treatment and care.
And unfortunately, many professional medical groups or associations do these studies that focus on malpractice lawsuits rather than preventing the malpractice that causes the lawsuit in the first place. Here's one we saw recently.
A recent article published by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that this concern is well-founded. Doctors who have a strong, transparent relationship with their patients avoid more medical malpractice lawsuits – because they don't commit malpractice - and there is concrete evidence to prove this.
AAP looked at studies regarding differences between doctors who have faced malpractice suits previously and those who have not. They discovered that doctors who haven’t encountered previous issues with medical malpractice worked with their patients to ensure that they understood their plan of care and supported the decisions the doctor made. Further, these doctors took time to get to know the patient, listen to their concerns, and make sure that their questions were answered. On the other hand, doctors who have faced malpractice suits did not show clear evidence of this high level of communication.
AAP compiled this information from a number of studies that focused on a range of doctors from primary care physicians to surgeons and a range of patients from infants to adults. Clearly, communication is an essential element of sound medical treatment and successful doctor-patient relationships across the board.
This evidence helps to explain the reality that “one-third of malpractice litigation was related to communication problems”. But the issue goes much deeper than whether a doctor has a good bedside manner or talks to you so you understand the condition or treatment.
Remember, medical malpractice includes doctors and hospitals not communicating with each other - other specialists, consultants, outside primary care physicians, pharmacies, radiology.
How a doctor's lack of communication killed a patient - a true story.
One tragic example of a Virginia medical malpractice case we handled involved the unnecessary death of a 50 year old professional mom. She was diagnosed with a life threatening blood clot in her calf (Deep Vein Thrombosis or DVT) because her primary care doctor sent her for a sonogram, thinking she may have a DVT.
The technician performing the sonogram saw what she thought was a DVT. She called the radiologist who reviewed the image and diagnosed DVT.
Then everything went to hell. The radiologist called the primary care doctor (who worked at an HMO) to report this life threatening condition he diagnosed. He was put on hold and got frustrated after a while, so he hung up without speaking to the primary care doctor. Instead, he faxed his report to the HMO doctor's office.
An office clerk got the fax off the fax machine and filed it in the patient's chart. In her deposition, she testfied she did not know what "Deep Vein Thrombosis" meant, or that it was a serious, life threatneing condition. She just put a piece of paper in the chart so it would be up to date for the patient's next regular appointment.
The mom died 3 days later of a pulmonary embolism from that blood clot.
Blood clots in the leg or DVT is treatable with blood thinners and had her HMO bothered to read the report, or the doctor who diagnosed it bothered to call back, or call her, that mom would have lived.
Much of the malpractice that we see in D.C., Maryland and Virginia happens because of what we call a systems error. That means one doctor or nurse (often an intern or resident) makes a mistake, doesn't understand a condition, test result, lab value, etc. but no one else who is responsible for the patient ever checks it, or verifies it - they ignore critical information that can help the patient.
Of course, it is the responsibility of the doctor to ensure that high quality communication is taking place; you can ask all the questions you want, but if your doctor refuses to listen to your concerns, your ability to protect and advocate for yourself disappears.
If you think your doctor is ignoring you, avoiding being transparent with you, or misleading you, it is essential that you speak up. This may be the key factor in avoiding becoming a victim of medical malpractice. Further, if you suspect your doctor is not giving you the attention you deserve, it is important to document instances of mistreatment or lack of clarity. Go to his or her supervisor or someone in the hospital administration to let them know.
We've seen our share of hospitals, HMOs and doctors groups not being truthful with patients, not talking to patients about it and essentially "covering up" what happened to a patient after a catastrophic permanent injury happens. And many times, the doctor who won't talk isn't the one who did anything wrong - he just knows about it.
Let's face it, you can't really prevent most malpractice - no patient can. But you may be able to catch it before it causes permanent harm.
If you have experienced such negligence and wonder if you have a medical malpractice case, seek help now. We represent clients who have faced tragic or life-altering outcomes due to malpractice, and we fight to ensure that they have the resources, compensation, and care they need.
If you have questions about medical malpractice or wonder if you have a case against a hospital or doctor in the D.C. area, call us at 202-393-3320 today. There’s no risk or obligation if you call, and we don't charge you anything for the call. It's also completely confidential and we'll give you all the information we can, even if we can't take your case.
These cases are intense, expensive and time consuming so we can only commit to taking on a case for people with life altering injuries - brain damage, paralysis, cerebral palsy, people who can't care for themselves or work again - because we need to focus on the people who need our help the most. We hope you understand that.