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USA Today (Society for the Advancement of Education)

Who sues for malpractice? – study on the most common reasons why patients file malpractice lawsuits and other common traits of malpractice suits

Who sues for malpractice? – study on the most common reasons why patients file malpractice lawsuits and other common traits of malpractice suits – Brief Article

Patients and health care professionals are their own worst enemies when it comes to creating situations that can lead to malpractice lawsuits, a research study at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center discovered. The relationship the patient had with his or her physician prior to an alleged malpractice incident and the patient’s financial condition also were key factors in whether to initiate such an action.

According to Mark Huycke, assistant professor of medicine, and Larae Huycke, a registered nurse and owner of Med-Law Case Review, Inc., an independent legal-nurse consulting agency, “Patients tend to place blame on doctors and other health care professionals very quickly, but they need to do things better, too. They need to choose their doctors and other health care specialists carefully. They need to ask questions until they are satisfied and get information on how much procedures and treatments will cost up front. One of the chief problems we found was that patients often assume too passive a role in the physician/patient relationship.” The Huyckes also indicate that:

* The most frequent reason respondents gave for contacting a specific attorney’s office was television advertising (73%); next highest was an explicit recommendation from a health care provider to seek legal counsel (27%).

* Fifty-three percent reported an unsatisfactory relationship with their provider preceding the alleged injury.

* Forty-eight percent mentioned difficulty with finances during their complaint. Of those who had a steady income, 45% had outstanding medical bills; one-third of these individuals had medical bills that were 50% or more of their annual earned income.

* The five physician specialties most often sued were obstetricians, family practitioners, orthopedic surgeons, emergency medicine specialists, and general surgeons.

* Nurses were named in allegations almost twice as much as any other medical specialty or professional group.

* Private hospitals, offices, emergency care centers, and/or nursing homes were named more frequently as the site of the alleged injury than were state, county, and Federal facilities combined (83% vs. 17%). Forty percent of alleged injuries occurred in outpatient settings.

“What is very significant is that most of these respondents had strained relations or difficulty relating to medical personnel prior to the alleged malpractice,” the Huyckes point out. “How many really suffered substandard care isn’t clear from our study. What is clear is that health care providers, including clinics and hospitals, should more closely examine why patients become dissatisfied with medical care.” Providers who want to protect themselves from malpractice charges more effectively must learn to ask explicit questions about their patients’ understanding of and expectations for medical care and its cost.

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