More advice on how to avoid lawsuits

Malpractice attorneys have some good news and some bad news for physicians.

Malpractice attorneys have some good news and some bad news for physicians. While fewer cases are being filed against doctors who commit diagnostic errors, they are still being sued for more preventable actions-such as failing to follow policy, to read lab results, or to adequately communicate with patients or staff. Omissions like these are avoidable, say attorneys. If the omissions are prevented, the likelihood of a lawsuit being filed decreases.

Attorneys also note that clear and accurate documentation is essential to defending against a malpractice claim. They encourage physicians to keep legible, detailed, and complete charts. Besides information about the patient's condition, include any communications you have with patients or staff. Note when the conversation occurred and what the "mutually understood game plan" is. Also ensure that dictation of charts occurs in a timely manner-usually within 24 to 48 hours. Finally, never alter the record; instead, if an error appears in the chart, draw a line through the error, write the correction, date it and sign your initials.

The attorneys also recommend disclosing errors to patients. Doing so does not encourage litigation, but rather decreases the severity of a claim. "If you don't talk to patients, patients are going to talk to a lawyer," Samuel Davis, an attorney with David, Saperstein & Solomon in Teaneck, N.J., told American Medical News (9/26/05).

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