Good People Skills May Help Docs Deter Malpractice Suits

By Frieden, Joyce | Clinical Psychiatry News, January 2004 | Go to article overview

Good People Skills May Help Docs Deter Malpractice Suits


Frieden, Joyce, Clinical Psychiatry News


NEW ORLEANS -- Dr. Edward Zurad has developed a new skill in his office-based practice: "firing" patients.

Although it's not something he does frequently, Dr. Zurad, a family physician in Tunkhannock, Penn., said he has "gotten really good at firing patients in the last 2 years." Firing patients who won't follow your advice is one way to avoid a potentially risky situation in terms of medical liability, he said.

Another way is to document carefully any situation in which patients are noncompliant. "It's unbelievably important to document noncompliance," Dr. Zurad said at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Family Physicians. "And if you can't live with the potential outcome [of the noncompliance], it's best to discharge the patient."

Eventually, almost all physicians will find themselves on the wrong end of a lawsuit, he noted, quoting Dr. Richard Roberts, a past president of the AAFP: "There are only two ways not to get sued: keep all your patients deliriously happy, or never see patients."

Whether or not physicians get sued depends as much on their interpersonal skills as on their clinical abilities, Dr. Zurad said. "Nice doctors get sued less." That's a good thing for physicians to remember when they're in situations that might be associated with any malpractice risk, he added. "Take a deep breath and say, 'Just be nice.'"

Dr. Zurad mentioned several types of annoyances that can lead to patient dissatisfaction. One of the most common is being kept in the waiting room for a long time. If that happens, staff should be sure to inform patients of the reason for and length of the delay. "No one likes to sit endlessly in the waiting room, but it helps if patients know how long they'll have to wait, and why," he said. …

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