When Medicine Goes Wrong: The Need for Doctors to Have the Right Liability Coverage

Linda Childers

In a perfect world, there would be no medical errors or the need for physicians to have liability coverage, but in today’s complex and ever-evolving world of healthcare, medical mistakes can and do happen. Even when physicians are proactive about reducing their exposure to malpractice claims, they can find themselves legally responsible for the negligent acts of a physician assistant, nurse or other colleague employed in their practice.

Research from 2013 shows there has been an uptick in litigation cases that involve advanced care practitioners. A 2013 Joint Commission report found that failure-to-supervise claims were among the most common legal allegations stemming from failed team care. In many malpractice lawsuits, attending physicians receive more blame than those under their supervision.

As a medical professional, you’re probably aware of the significant risks that healthcare organizations face related to management liability, but you may be unsure about the best way to protect your practice and healthcare team from potential lawsuits. Trusted providers of management liability coverage understand the nuances and risks inherent in today’s legal environment for outpatient and inpatient healthcare service providers. They can work with you to determine the best insurance package to protect your medical practice.

Medical Errors

A study in the Sept., 2013 Journal of Patient Safety, found that between 210,000 and 440,000 patients who go to the hospital for care suffer from some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death. While the American Hospital Association believes the Institute of Medicine’s estimate of 98,000 deaths to be more accurate, all agree that preventable medical errors including wrong surgery sites and medication errors are on the rise and need to be addressed.

While the adoption of electronic health records has been shown to reduce medical errors, fostering better communication with patients has also been shown to improve outcomes and reduce malpractice suits. An approach called “Safer Sign Outs” is being implemented in approximately two-dozen hospitals across the country as a way to standardize the handoff process that happens when doctors and nurses change shifts. Often thought to be the critical time when medication errors can occur if important information gets miscommunicated, these hospitals are now requiring incoming and outgoing staff to chat in person, visit the patient together, and go over a checklist of the most important things to be watched regarding the patient.

Poor Communication

Surprisingly, patients who claim to have been rushed, ignored or treated poorly file the most malpractice cases. In a landmark study, Dr. Wendy Levinson of the University of Toronto, recorded hundreds of phone conversations between physicians and their patients. Half of the doctors she recorded had never been sued, and half had been sued twice. She found the doctors who had never been sued spent three minutes longer with their patients, and were more likely to make “orienting” comments such as “I will leave time after your exam for questions,” and were more likely to engage in active listening, and to laugh or be funny during the visit. Levinson reported no difference in the amount of quality or information that doctors gave their patients, illustrating that good communications skills can offer one of the best protections against malpractice claims.


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