Healthcare professionals make mistakes like everyone else. Unfortunately, when a physician makes an error, it can cause unnecessary suffering, injury and even death. What’s more, the life and reputation of the doctor who made the error can suffer significantly as well.
Some medical errors are simply unavoidable, a confluence of unforeseen circumstances that lead to an unfortunate result. But some mistakes are entirely preventable, especially those tied to poor communication or physician overreach.
What kind of mistakes are most likely to get you into trouble? We looked at a recent overview of malpractice cases from UBM Medica’s Physician Practice and came up with these three.
Mistake #1. Failure to Communicate
Communication lapses between healthcare providers is a major contributor to patient harms. According to a 2015 report from patient-safety experts CRICO Strategies, over one-third of medical errors that occur in the hospital setting happen because communication between providers breaks down. According to the report, most of these occur because information is “unrecorded, misdirected, never received, never retrieved or ignored.”
Case in point: An immunocompromised patient was under the care of three physicians. He had an ongoing fever for which the team had found no source. One doctor ordered a liver biopsy, but due to a communication failure, it was never done. The patient later died of undiagnosed histoplasmosis. The family sued and received an award of $9 million.
Mistake #2. Failure to Ask Help
Taking on a procedure that you’re not trained to handle or making a diagnosis without consulting a specialist can cost you and your patients a great deal. Knowing your limits is crucial to safe medical practice. It can also prevent you from making a medical error that leads to a costly malpractice lawsuit.
Case in point: An orthopedic surgeon performed hand surgery on a patient that he was not trained to perform. The patient suffered permanent deficits in her dominant hand. The case settled out of court for $200,000
In a similar case, a physician overlooked an abnormal EKG on a patient complaining of chest pain. The physician could have called a cardiologist to review the test but chose not to do so. The next day, the patient died at home of cardiac arrest. The case settled for $1.3 million.
Mistake # 3 Dismissing the Opinions of Other Professionals
It’s not always easy to listen to the opinion of another healthcare professional when it contradicts your own. But nurses, physician assistants, and other doctors sometimes catch a sign or symptom that the treating physician overlooks. Failing to heed their warnings can have disastrous results.
Case in point: A patient undergoing deep brain stimulation developed a venous air embolism. When the patient became unstable, the nurse anesthetist told the neurosurgeon to stop the procedure. The surgeon continued despite her warning, and the patient died. The family received a judgment of $5 million in the subsequent malpractice case.
Most physicians are by now familiar with the jarring and unpalatable statistic that preventable medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in the United States. Yet, rather than focus on ways to fix the systemic issues that plague our healthcare system, legislators (and many physicians) continue to focus far too much energy on tort reform. Until that mindset shifts, it’s unlikely that policymakers will be working towards finding solutions that address the overarching reality that too many medical errors are taking place and too many lives are being derailed.
In the meantime, however, individual physicians are wise to work towards making their practices and their assets a bit more safe.
At the Carmoon Group, we offer medical malpractice insurance policies tailored to each physician’s budget and practice needs. We also offer comprehensive business insurance policies that can protect your assets against other perils, such as fire and theft. Why not give us a call today and set up an appointment to discuss your insurance needs? Or simply fill out our online form and we’ll get back to you right away.