Medical Malpractice is defined as the improper, unskilled, or negligent treatment of a patient by a physician, dentist, nurse, pharmacist, or other health care professional. Let me help make this a little bit clearer for you and share a few interesting facts and figures about medical malpractice:
- The belief that malpractice suits are filed with the intention of making a lot of money is false. A study done between 51 New York hospitals showed that poor, Medicaid, or uninsured patients are significantly less likely to sue for malpractice.
- The ratio of the number of people that die due to preventable mistakes and the number of people who file a lawsuit is low. According to the Institute of Medicine, about 98,000 die each year due to preventable mistakes, and hundreds of thousands more are injured because of them. However, only one in eight people actually file a lawsuit.
- The states with the highest per capita malpractice payouts are New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. While the lowest states are North Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin, Mississippi, and Indiana.
- It seems like a no-brainer that medical malpractice is preventable, but it’s the third leading cause of death in America. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 80% of events in the healthcare system are the result of human error.
- Malpractice suits usually deal with serious injury, and most people don’t bother suing over small accidents that don’t leave any lasting harm. In 75 different countries, 90% of malpractice suits involved permanent injury or death.
- Although nurses are usually in charge of nursing homes patients, many states have adopted special procedures for nursing home issues that don’t fall under malpractice.
- While the number of doctors has increased, some doctors still feel they’re handling too many patients. According to the Maryland Practice Team, 40% of doctors feel their patient volume can lead to errors.
- America spends $2.2 trillion a year on healthcare, and only $7.1 billion on defending claims and compensating victims. While that seems like a lot, it only accounts for 0.3 percent of healthcare costs.
- There are two common reasons for a malpractice suit. For inpatient errors, 34% of malpractice suits were because of surgical errors. For outpatient errors, 46% of malpractice suits were the result of errors in diagnoses.
- Only 7.6 percent of doctors found guilty in two or more malpractice suits were punished, and only 13 percent of doctors who were guilty in five or more malpractice suits were punished.
Wow, so that was a lot right? Yes it was! These interesting facts and figures may have you wondering how can I avoid being apart of a medical malpractice suit where I am defending my actions as a clinician. Well I am glad you asked! I would like to share 5 tips to help you remain free and clear of being a defendant of a medical malpractice case:
- Document, Document, Document– As a legal nurse consultant, I can’t tell you how many nurse are not documenting properly. Remember the things we were all taught in nursing school ” if it was documented, it wasn’t done!! It is very hard to go before a court and say “Oh I did it, but I forgot to document it”. I can tell you this is a automatic strike against you. Also make sure your documentation is clear and concise. It should paint a very clear picture of exactly what happened while that patient was in your care and not leave anything to the imagination.
- Check Physician Orders a Minimum of 3 Times Before Carrying Them Out- Listen I know how it is to be on a floor with 6 patients, all of them needing IV pushes, 3 of them are on the call light, and the physician is giving you 10 orders; can you say frustrating!! But we have to slow down and verify physician orders and if they do not seem right, don’t be afraid to question the physician on the orders. I have witnessed countless medical malpractice cases where the nurse carried out incorrect orders or orders that should have made a light bulb go off in their head and say ” I don’t think this is right “, and they didn’t verify the order and carried it out which caused serious damages to the patient.
- Write Your Notes Legibly– For some of us we are not yet at a stage where we have the privilege to document on our patients in a computerized charting system through our respective employer. So we are still hand writing our documentation. The barrier with that is that notes can become extremely hard to read at times thus leaving a lot of room for questions should a patient that you ever took care of decides to file a medical malpractice suit. Now while you can definitely explain to a court what the notes says while in the middle of a medical malpractice litigation suit, why send yourself through that headache of having to do that when you can just write legibly.
- Communicate– Communication is key! We know this to be true in every area of our life and this is no different within the healthcare profession. To prevent from making any type of error on a patient that you are caring for, you must communicate with all parties involved in their care and that includes but is not limited to the physician, certified nursing assistant, charge nurse, radiology, social worker etc. Everyone has to be on the same page with what is going on with the patient and notify each other of any critical information that is going on with the patient. I have seen numerous cases where the clinican indicates ” Well I didn’t do xyz because no one communicated this information to me. NOPE, that is not going to fly!! We are licensed professionals that have taken an oath and we must act as so, so we must COMMUNICATE.
- Always be a Student– Like everything around us, healthcare is changing. Which means we must change with it, we must stay updated on the latest and greatest, on the practices that were once in practice that has now been eliminated, etc. Attend conferences, take that class you employer is offering, really pay attention in those continuing education courses. We are ultimately responsible as licensed clinical professionals to provide care that is current, up to date, and the standard for our profession.
Nicole Thomas, RN, MSN, CCM, LNC
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