Nearly half of all medical malpractice claim and lawsuit payments are made as the result of negligence that occurs in a hospital setting, according to statistics from the National Practitioner Data Bank. Medical malpractice claims arise for a range of different reasons. With that noted, a common element of a medical malpractice claim involving a hospitalized person is the breakdown in the relationship between that patient and a healthcare provider. This includes poor or inadequate communication between a doctor and hospitalized patient.
Common Types of Communication Deficiencies that Lead to Malpractice Claims
Even though hospitals and medical centers contend that they take affirmative steps to eliminate communication problems between patients and healthcare providers, the same issues arise time and time again. These are the communication issues that commonly result in medical malpractice claims.
At the top of the list of poor communication issues that end up in legal ramifications is the failure on the part of a doctor to talk openly about a medical condition, issue, procedure or treatment with a patient. Doctors make a myriad of excuses as to why this occurs (and does so with surprising regularity). Nonetheless, a patient is entitled to appropriately clear and comprehensive information about medical matters. Moreover, this cannot typically be accomplished by handing a patient (or family member) a sheet of paper that sets forth information. Open communication demands an understanding by the patient (or a patient’s legal representative) of what is being transmitted by a healthcare provider.
As part of poor communication leading to medical negligence claims is a failure of a medical provider to listen fully and closely to a patient. This includes listening to a patient’s questions but also taking in a patient’s concerns. A doctor (or other healthcare provider) cannot dismiss what a patient is saying, presuming that the healthcare provider “knows where the patient is going” in regard to a query or statement. Rather, in order to fully satisfy an obligation to a patient, a doctor must listen closely to what is being said by the individual in his or her care and respond accordingly and not dismissively.
Another key area in which doctors fall down on the job to communicate appropriately involves adequately briefing a patient on the long-term consequences of a medical condition, procedure, treatment or therapy. Only with reasonable information about these long-term consequences — which really can only be provided by healthcare professionals — a patient simply is unable to make an informed decision. Taking away a patient’s ability to make an informed decision opens the door to a medical malpractice claim at a later point in time.
Extent of Communication and Negligence Problems in Hospitals
A reality associated with negligence in hospitals is that a small percentage of doctors are responsible for the majority of malpractice claims. According to the highly-regarded New England Journal of Medicine, the same 5 percent of doctors were responsible for 54 percent of all malpractice payouts from 1990 to 2002. The belief is that this situation remains generally the same a decade later.
Poor Communication Not Limited to Doctors
The reality is that many medical procedures are performed by other types of healthcare providers, in addition to doctors. These healthcare providers also have a duty to communicate appropriately with patients. Their failure to do so can, and oftentimes does, result in medical malpractice claims and lawsuits being pursued by an injured patient (or the family of a person who has died as the result of the negligent provision of medical care).