Friday, November 23, 2007

Taking advantage of patient complaints to reduce malpractice risk and enhance professionalism

Dr. Gerald Hickson, director of the Center for Patient and Professional Advocacy at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, has conducted extensive research on why people sue doctors. His findings? Patient and family perception, not medical error, drives most malpractice suits:

He has found that 85 percent of malpractice claims are invalid, and that neither technical competence nor patient severity is a significant determinant of the risk of malpractice suit. “All doctors have patients who experience adverse events,” Hickson said. “What sends people to lawyers are perceptions, not necessarily medical facts.”

His research also suggests a correlation between the number of complaints from patients and the physician’s risk of being sued. Physicians with high numbers of complaints account for a disproportionate share of lawsuits and may benefit from intervention. Everybody wins if identification of patterns of patient complaints and timely intervention promotes professionalism and loss prevention.

Hickson is the lead author of a paper in the current issue of Academic Medicine which describes Vanderbilt’s non-punitive system for identifying and correcting patterns of unprofessional behavior based on analysis of patterns of patient complaints.

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