Risk Management — Communication Skills
Bedside manner is not only important in the healing process, but it is also one of the most important factors in determining whether or not an unanticipated event results in the filing of a malpractice claim.
Physician-patient communication (“bedside manner”) is not only important in the healing process, but it is also one of the most important factors in determining whether or not an unanticipated event results in the filing of a malpractice claim. Patients expect their doctors to care, meaning that how a physician communicates an unexpected outcome or complication is crucial. Many patients who sue are more angry than injured. If your patient likes you, he or she is less apt to sue you—and patients like doctors who demonstrate a personal interest by listening, explaining, and talking to them.
An arrogant physician who is abrupt, abrasive, or impatient and who avoids explaining an unexpected event with empathy and compassion is at high risk for a lawsuit. A “deny and defend” mentality often drives the patient to an attorney. It is not uncommon for an insurance company to settle an otherwise medically defensible claim because of concern that an arrogant doctor will make a bad witness and “turn off” a jury.
Don’t make promises you can’t or don’t intend to keep, e.g., telling a patient you’ll return a phone call or see him or her during rounds at a specific time or that you’ll meet with family members post-op to explain the surgical outcome. Anger often leads to disappointment and frustration— which may give rise to a claim.
The guidelines suggested here are not rules, do not constitute legal advice, and do not ensure a successful outcome. The ultimate decision regarding the appropriateness of any treatment must be made by each healthcare provider in light of all circumstances prevailing in the individual situation and in accordance with the laws of the jurisdiction in which the care is rendered.