Preventing Common Causes of Plastic Surgery Malpractice Claims

Jay D. Reyero | 9.19.17

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As many healthcare providers seek to deliver quicker, more efficient care to patients, the foundation of the physician-patient relationship remains critical as evidence by a recent study conducted by The Doctors Company.  In a study of plastic surgery closed malpractice claims, The Doctors Company identified three common causes of malpractice claims include: (1) communication failures; (2) unrealistic expectations; and (3) patient factors such as body characteristics and behavior.

As telemedicine becomes more prevalent with the recent legislative updates and as non-physician practitioners participate more in the patient care experience, the opportunities for patient communication breakdowns can increase.  In addition, there is also added potential of insufficient medical clearance for particular procedures which can lead to a greater chance of patient dissatisfaction. With the prevalence of social media and text message exchanges with patients, it can also be easy for physicians and their staff to not properly document all communications.  All of these communication lapses can negatively impact the patient care experience and thus lead to a greater likelihood of a malpractice claim by an unsatisfied patient.

Physicians can strive to mitigate these issues by implementing specific policies and procedures aimed at taking control of every aspect of the patient care experience. The Doctors Company found physicians were surprised by the lack of patient communications and subsequent documentation of such communications causing many to reevaluate their policies and procedures.

Physicians should first identify where potential communication issues may arise by conducting a comprehensive analysis of the practice’s operations.  Every facet of the patient care experience should be examined beginning with the initial consult and medical history and concluding with the final follow-up appointment.  Physicians should pay particular attention to the instances where other staff are communicating with patients.  The findings of the analysis then lays the ground work for developing those policies and procedures needed to address identified issues.

Once developed, it is vital that the policies and procedures are adopted in two particular ways. First, practices should formally adopt written policies and procedures that are and remain easily accessible to all in case of the need for guidance.  But more importantly, the policies and procedures must become a part of the culture and environment of the practice.  All practice members should be trained on the policies and procedures so that they may successfully incorporate them into their daily routine.

By having the policies and procedures in place to ensure proper patient communication and documentation throughout the patient care process, physicians can have more confidence that communication breakdowns will not occur, and therefore, the common causes found in malpractice claims will be eliminated.

For questions on developing policies or patient communication issues in general, please contact Jay D. Reyero (jreyero@byrdadatto.com).

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