Career Resources / Protecting Against Malpractice
One of the more dangerous accidents within the hospital setting involves dispensing medication. If a clinician provides the wrong drug or dosage to a patient, it can cause harm to a patient and potentially be considered malpractice.
This is just one example of potential malpractice. Malpractice occurs when a provider’s negligent act causes an injury to a patient that resulted in significant damages.
Even in healthcare careers, where providers swear an oath to do no harm or have an ethic that shares that idea, these accidents happen.
Clinicians will likely experience a malpractice claim at least once in their career due to the sheer number of patients they care for.
The best ways to avoid malpractice claims involve complying with HIPAA, getting consent, continuing education and keeping consistent documentation.
In this article, we will address the following:
- What Constitutes Malpractice
- Examples of Malpractice
- How to Avoid Malpractice Claims
What Constitutes Malpractice?
Malpractice, in short, occurs when a health care professional causes an injury to a patient. The four malpractice elements are: a professional duty owed to the patient, breach of duty, injury caused by the beach, and resulting damages.
More specifically, malpractice must have the following aspects:
- A violation of the standard of care – Under the law, there are specific medical protocols the field deems acceptable treatment for health care professionals under similar circumstances. This is referred to as the standard of care. Patients have a right to anticipate that health care providers will provide care that meets these standards. If these standards are not met, then a patient can claim negligence.
- An injury was caused by negligence – For a medical malpractice claim to have legitimacy, the patient has to prove that they sustained an injury. This injury had to happen as a result of negligence. The burden of proof resides with the patient to show that negligence caused the damage.
- The injury resulted in significant damages – Medical malpractice lawsuits are not cheap to litigate. They require testimony from many different medical experts along with deposition testimony. To have a valid case, the patient has to demonstrate that significant damages occurred due to negligence. To claim negligence, the patient’s injury has to have resulted in disability, loss of income, unusual pain, suffering and hardship or significant past or future medical bills.
Malpractice claims provide patients compensation for their pain and suffering. For the health care professional, it’s geared to hold them accountable for their negligence.
Malpractice vs. Workplace Harassment
That said, there is a difference between malpractice and workplace harassment. Workplace harassment is defined as unwanted verbal or physical behavior based on race, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality or age.
These incidents usually happen between employees, whereas malpractice occurs between a patient and a health care professional.
If you have experienced workplace harassment, the best thing to do is make it clear to the harasser the conduct is unwelcome, keep notes of what happened, report the behavior and consult your employee manual.
Examples of Malpractice
Malpractice comes in several forms. Health care professionals need to understand the various ways it can occur.
- Unnecessary surgery
- Surgery errors or wrong-site surgery
- Poor follow-up or aftercare
- Improper medication or dosage
- Not ordering proper testing
Malpractice in Telehealth
The dimensions of telehealth open up more opportunities for malpractice suits. For example, telehealth can lead to data breaches of the patient’s protected health information.
Also, health care professionals can find it challenging to properly diagnose patients through electronic platforms, leading to misdiagnosis.
Last, software issues or internet glitches can cause diagnostic errors.
Altogether, telehealth creates a host of issues that can lead to malpractice suits.
Providers must document each virtual visit and keep good records. Additionally, they should also look into their state’s telemedicine laws. Individual states have laws governing patient medical history, documentation, follow-up care and emergency care.
How to Avoid Malpractice Claims
Fortunately, there are concrete ways to avoid malpractice claims as a medical professional.
HIPAA Compliance: Maintaining compliance with HIPAA goes a long way. You want to make sure that you don’t share patient information on social media or any other source. It’s critical to practice proper HIPAA compliance standards by ensuring that you only discuss patient information with the patient, staff or authorized persons. Also, implement a strict data security system to help protect patient data.
Practice Good Communication: Make sure that you employ effective written and verbal communication with patients. Effective written communication involves explaining referrals, going over lab results and documenting patient visits.
Get Consent: Before you share electronic health records, make sure you get consent from the patient. Take time to verify that they understand what they are signing.
Keep Up With Continuing Education: Every state has its own continuing education standards. Keeping up with them helps a nurse stay current with the practices and procedures of their profession. It’s essential for clinicians to not only pursue their mandated continuing education but to try and take extra classes as well. This will protect you in the case of a lawsuit.
Keep Consistent and Correct Documentation: It’s easy for a health care provider to miss a few details in the documentation. However, it’s essential to document patient records so as not to have any fallout later. Keeping proper documentation helps doctors accurately diagnose and create a treatment plan. If you mess up with documentation, it can lead to a misdiagnosis and a potential malpractice lawsuit.
To conclude, malpractice can happen within the health care field. However, there are steps to take as a health care provider to decrease the likelihood of it happening to you or your staff.