Legal Troubles

Not only can a lack of communication with patients lead to an inefficient and stunted practice, there are also some weighty legal pitfalls that could come attached. Anne Brendel, a health-care attorney in Los Angeles, claims, “Legal issues often make physicians pay more attention to their requirements. They’re more likely to listen if they can be punished for it.” With that in mind, here’s a look at some legal troubles that could befall a practice as a result of inefficient communication with its patients.

“Initially, talking to the patients obviously helps strengthen that patient-doctor relationship. Good communication also helps practitioners obtain proper consent,” Ms. Brendel says. “CMS has offered guidelines for informed consent as well. Communication can also decrease civil and criminal liability.

“Ultimately, and worst-case scenario, fraud can be an issue—even malpractice,” she continues. “Having the appropriate conversation with the patient is important as a way to decrease liability for practitioners. Documenting this conversation is important too. Should an action arise later, it’s not he-said, she-said, because the conversations were documented.”

As for how to avoid these legal issues, she offers some advice. “Treatment information sheets are very helpful. You can attach those to the informed consent forms. In addition to having a conversation with the patient, you should keep a document ultimately signed by the patient that lays everything out clearly,” she says. “Something that says that you talked about the risk and the patient had an opportunity to ask questions. This can also protect physicians later, too, because there will be documentation that the patient had the opportunity to raise a question, even if he chose not to. When you have that, it protects the physicians since it puts the fault back on the patient for not raising a concern when he had an opportunity to.”

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