Better Communication: Better Medical Malpractice Outcomes

We are living in an era of healthcare when healthcare providers, hospitals and health systems cannot afford to ignore the preferences and expectations of patients.  As claims professionals, we hear “no one would listen to me” from claimants far too often.

Patient experience is about active listening and being mindful about the moment.  All humans crave connection, empathy and partnership, especially when they are facing a potentially life altering condition.  While healthcare technology has saved countless lives, it has also contributed to chaotic and complex interactions between the HCP and the patient.  It comes as no surprise that length of stay has shortened and coordination of care is frequently lessened, resulting in patients feeling lost in a maze of healthcare confusion.

Medical malpractice claims and lawsuits are not random and some HCPs are sued far more often than others. A study looking at obstetricians in Florida conducted in 1989 found that 6% of obstetricians accounted for 70% of all malpractice costs over a five-year period. Analysis confirmed it wasn’t just “bad luck” for these doctors.  A subsequent study revealed that one of the most significant predictors of being sued is having been sued in the past.

Another study looked at the relationship between a physician’s history of malpractice suits and patient satisfaction.  The study revealed that patients who saw a doctor with a history of past lawsuits were significantly more likely to report that the doctor rushed them, did not explain reasons for tests or simply ignored them.  Poor communication was the most common complaint. 

In order to alleviate concerns early on in the care giving process  and build a culture of transparency and acceptance, the channels of communication must remain open between a doctor and patient.

State reform is implementing various ongoing efforts to reduce malpractice risk.  However, this strategy does little to address the basic root of the problem.  Patients today are not the patient’s of yesteryear. In this day and age, we have programs designed to improve communication around medical errors that encourage physicians to explain to their patients how the happened and what steps will be taken to make them less likely in the future. 

Another strategy is to partner with patients and their family members by providing a forum where they can discuss improvement efforts.  This approach is being embraced as an integral step towards improving quality, safe and patient outcomes and thereby reducing malpractice claims and suits.

Unfortunately, many healthcare providers are fixated on tort reform as their main remedy to improve the risk of malpractice suits, even thought evidence has shown that practicing “defensive medicine” does not work.  Adopting a behavior change to engage and a patient and his or her family through communication is an essential aspect or care giving today.  Learning to be a better communicator is not a small task, but it actually may make a real difference in whether or not a provider is subjected to a lawsuit.  Healthcare providers need to learn to assume the change within themselves as caregivers rather than looking to an outside source to fix this critical issue. 


Partnering to Improve Quality and Safety: A Framework for Working with Patient and Family Advisors

To Be Sued Less, Doctors Should Consider Talking to Patients More

Getting Back to the Heart of Healthcare