10 Ways to Avoid Medical Malpractice

Dawn Pascale

Let’s lead with some good news for a change: The rate of malpractice claims in the U.S. has steadily declined since 2001. The amount paid out has also dropped. A report by the Advisory Board earlier this year points out that just 2% of the doctors in the United States are responsible for 39% of all the malpractice claims in the U.S. These statistics illustrate that the majority of doctors are avoiding these costly lawsuits, however the American Medical Association (AMA) says 34% of physicians have had a claim filed against them at some point in their careers. The cost of malpractice insurance is high, but lawsuits against doctors and other clinicians aren’t based just on medical treatment error. Instead, you can be sued for the alleged mistreatment of the patient. In this litigious environment, how can doctors avoid medical malpractice?

Patient-Caregiver Relationships

It’s probably true that your patients are more demanding than ever. They expect timely service, direct attention, and quality care and caring. Treating patients with respect throughout the process requires empathy and honest communication. This will help earn the trust of your patients, which means they will be less likely to file a lawsuit.

Transparency and Consistency

Simply put, there is no element more important to avoiding a malpractice claim than a healthy doctor-patient relationship built on clear and effective communication between one another. Teaching your teams to do the same will go a long way toward improving the relationship. Learn to explain complicated medical procedures clearly and concisely to help patients understand their diagnosis and treatment. Also, have your staff be very clear about payment, including the cost of the procedure and their financial commitment versus insurance payment.

Get it in Writing

Explicit, unambiguous documentation can come in handy should you ever need to recount a certain situation and justify what occurred in order to defend your actions. Conversely, inadequate or indefinite documentation leaves you infinitely more susceptible to a malpractice lawsuit.  Most healthcare professionals are not strangers to documentation requirements, but many can still improve dramatically. While it’s impractical for you to document everything that goes on between you and your patients, it is practical to write legibly, recording all findings and advice and date, time and sign every entry.

Informed Consent

The obvious necessity of acquiring informed consent from your patient cannot be discounted; this is one of the best ways to mitigate treatment risks. While receiving documented informed consent is a standard in the healthcare industry, it’s important to recognize here that the purpose of informed consent is to keep you from getting sued.

Complete and Accurate Documentation

EMRs have helped physicians document caseloads, but it’s the clinical notes that can make or break your response to a malpractice lawsuit. When a doctor fails in their documentation of a case, and it goes to a jury, they’re more likely to side with the patient. Poor documentation can be costly, so make sure all charts and records are thorough and meticulous.

Stay Current

Keeping your credentials up to date is one thing, but pursuing industry education to stay on top of the latest trends, regulations, and the field, on the whole, will prepare you to answer patient questions more accurately and built their confidence and trust in your expertise.

Slow Down and Manage Your Patient’s Expectations

We are often rushed in our clinical practice to see more patients faster.  Make sure you don’t skimp on the time necessary to review the patient chart and history before entering the room. Take the time to greet the patient and make pleasantries to ensure they feel comfortable.  Furthermore, make sure to be as accurate and forthright as possible when discussing the available courses of action, as well as any possible outcomes or implications that may arise from the decisions that are made. Ask the patient to repeat your recommendation to ensure the message was heard accurately. 

Put Yourself in Your Patient’s Shoes

Use your common sense here; anything that would irritate you will most likely irritate your patient. Reply to calls and emails in a timely fashion, don’t rush them and make them feel that you are truly devoted to their health.  If patient’s like you, the odds of them suing you for malpractice declines greatly.

When in Doubt, Ask for Help

There will be times in your career where your standard remedies are not working for a patient.    Expecting you to know how to treat every patient for every symptom is unrealistic.  Under no circumstance should your obstinacy be placed before the health of a patient so if you don’t know something, swallow your pride and ask for assistance. 


Living a healthy lifestyle and having a balanced work/life schedule helps you stay sharp.  However, any stressors can affect the work that you do, so it’s really important for you to have a strong knowledge of your own limits.  A stressful personal or professional experience can lead to burnout, and perhaps poor judgement. Recognize the warning signs and take a time out.

Building the doctor-patient relationship, documenting, and preparing for each visit are important ways to mitigate your malpractice risk and keep your patients happy. If you’re unhappy in your current position, talk to MedSource Consultants to find out your options.