Can Talking to Patients Prevent Doctors from Being Sued?

June 15, 2015 | Crandall & Pera Law
Can Talking to Patients Prevent Doctors from Being Sued?

Managing one’s health is a tricky business: sometimes, you simply do not know what you do not know. That is why we rely on our doctors to answer our questions – often before we even know what we want to ask – and assuage our fears about new medications, upcoming surgeries or potential illnesses. Yet ask any person who has spent time in a hospital, and you are bound to hear horror stories of doctors only coming in for a few brief moments, or being “handled” entirely by nurses and interns, of having questions left unanswered.

As it turns out, that lack of communication seems to have a direct correlation to which doctors are sued and which are not. The New York Times looked into numerous studies over the past few decades, and found that the “primary care physicians [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"][who are] sued less often are those more likely to spend time educating patients about their care, more likely to use humor and laugh with their patients and more likely to try to get their patients to talk and express their opinions. It seems that more likable physicians are less likely to have claims filed against them.” In short, the studies show that communication between doctors and patients can reduce the chances of those doctors being sued for malpractice.

Poor communication and a failure to warn

The findings make sense, even if the numbers do not: after all, there is no empirical proof that a doctor who talks to his patients is less likely to make a mistake than a doctor who does not. However, the Times found that in one study from 1992, about a “third of respondents said that their doctor would not talk openly to them, half said their doctor had tried to mislead them, and 70 percent said that they were not warned about long-term neurodevelopmental problems in their children” who had suffered a “permanent injury” or who had died (emphasis ours). Thus, the leading reason in these particular malpractice cases is a failure to warn about the potential dangers – after all, a doctor who fails to speak with his patients seems most likely to fail to give them pertinent information about the risks a mother and her unborn child may face.

But there is hope: in 2000, the University of Michigan instituted a new program “to improve communication around medical errors. When errors occurred, the program encouraged physicians to tell patients about them, how they happened, and what would be done to make them less likely to occur in the future.” In follow up studies done in 2010 and 2014, medical malpractice claims dropped by 36% and 58% respectively, and that the costs associated with litigation had dropped more than 60% in both years.

As medical malpractice attorneys, we can attest to just how poor communication often is between patients and their doctors. The Times article draws attention to a very important finding: namely, that patients can be better consumers of healthcare, and that doctors can be better purveyors of healthcare, if the lines of communication are open. A doctor who talks to her patients will likely have better informed and more satisfied patients, and could decrease her chance of being sued for malpractice over a failure to war or inform. It is certainly a start in the right direction.

If you have questions about what constitutes medical malpractice, or of you wish to discuss your experiences with an experienced injury attorney, we invite you to contact Crandall & Pera Law. We maintain offices throughout Ohio and Kentucky for our clients’ convenience.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]