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Communication between Doctor and Patient is Key

As we’ve previously highlighted, the practice of medicine is being more heavily scrutinized as of late due to patients potentially being harmed from too much treatment. While doctors sometimes do too much–practicing of “defensive medicine” in order to ensure that they are not sued–studies show that, in fact, more treatment does not equal reduced risk. Rather, the answer might lie in doctors working on improving communications with their patients.

The Same Doctors Sued For Malpractice

While the medical profession sometimes blames attorneys and patients for medical malpractice lawsuits, in fact, statistics show that it is the same doctors being sued over and over again, indicating that there are reasons behind the lawsuits. So why are some doctors sued, while others are not? Based on a study conducted in 1992, respondents who sued physicians indicated that they did so because their doctor would not speak openly with them, tried to mislead them, and/or did not warn them about long-term problems.

Listening Is Key

Similar results were found two years later: doctors who were sued over and over again received complaints that they rushed patients, did not explain reasons for tests ordered, ignored test results, and/or were overall poor communicators. In general, studies done over time show that patients and doctors with a good rapport—where a doctor is educating a patient about their care and interested in their patient’s opinion—were less likely to make mistakes with their patients (and thus have medical malpractice suits filed against them).

However, studies surveying the doctors indicate that they are not comprehending the real issue: in fact, most physicians indicated that they thought they were sued because their patients had financial motives versus the actual reason—negligence. What everyone seemed to agree on, however, was that improved communication could help improve the doctor-patient relationship overall.

The Need for Behavioral Adjustments

Sadly, most efforts aimed at reducing malpractice actually try to punish the patients by making it more difficult to sue. However, this has been proven not to work: a study conducted at the University of Michigan showed that, in fact, encouraging physicians to tell patients about errors and talk about error prevention in the future demonstrated that this actually reduced malpractice lawsuits.

And it doesn’t just have an effect on litigation: in the context of the emergency room, a lack of communication between patients and doctors can have serious repercussions. For example, one study indicated that, while about two-thirds of patients suffering from acute coronary syndrome left sessions with their doctor assuming that they were having a heart attack, the physicians only believed this was the case about half the time.

But are doctors willing to make this behavioral adjustment? Or will they simply insist on policies being adjusted to accommodate existing behaviors?

Bertram & Amell

If you have been the victim of malpractice due to a doctor’s negligence, contact Bertram & Amell in Washington, D.C. today for a free consultation. Our attorneys are experienced in medical malpractice and will carefully review the details of your case and go over your options with you. We are here to help.

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