We get calls every day from patients who feel they have been wronged by their doctors. Many times these wrongs are perceived slights, failure to communicate, or a failure to ensure the patient understands his or her health situation.
In some circumstances, medical negligence could have been avoided with a stronger physician-patient relationship. It is our hope that patients and physicians will read and apply the following tips. If our firm never received another medical malpractice case because a physician never committed negligence again, that would be okay with us!
Top 5 Tips for Patients:
1. Prepare for Your Appointment:
Before your appointment, make a list of your signs and symptoms. Calculate and write down how long your symptoms have lasted. What prompted your symptoms? Make a list of everything you want to discuss with your doctor. Also be sure to bring a list of medications with you.
2. Be a patient patient:
No one likes waiting. It seems like doctors are always behind schedule. (See Doctor Tip 1!) Many times there is a good reason for the doctor’s lateness – maybe he or she had a patient that needed more time than anticipated. If you were the other patient, you would want your doctor to take sufficient time with you. (See Doctor Tip 2!) Sometimes there are scheduling errors. Office staff is human, too. If your doctor is consistently late without explanation, though, it could be a sign of a mismanaged office. Talk with your doctor, and maybe the office manager.
3. Listen, Repeat, and Ask Questions:
It is YOUR responsibility to understand your health condition. It is your doctor’s responsibility to explain it to you. You need to listen to what your doctor says. Then repeat it back to make sure you understand it. Then ask any questions you have and listen carefully to the answers.
4. Bring a Notebook to Your Appointment:
Let’s face it – medical appointments can be stressful, especially when a lot of information is coming at you. Do not rely on the visit summary you get when you check out. Those can be hard to read and usually contain only a small fraction of the information your doctor gave you. Write down any diagnoses (ask for the correct spelling), your questions and answers, any instructions, and the follow-up plan. It would be helpful to keep one notebook for all of your medical information (if you have several physicians or health conditions, a multi-subject notebook is a good approach) (see Patient Tip 1).
5. Trust Your Doctor:
The internet is both a blessing and a curse. We have unlimited information at our fingertips. It is tempting to scour websites and message boards trying to self-diagnose and treat. But we all know that not everything you read on the internet is true. And accurate medical information can be very difficult to understand and put in context. Your doctor has been trained and has the context necessary to evaluate your symptoms. By all means, educate yourself as to your condition and treatments. Use what you have learned to ask your doctor questions. Ask him to educate you. But in the end – trust your doctor’s opinion. That line is very difficult for us to say. In every case we have, the doctor made a mistake. However, you can’t live in fear that your doctor is going to make a mistake. You can’t assume that you know more than your doctor. Unless you actually have a reason not to, you need to trust your doctor. If you don’t, it’s time to go elsewhere.
Top 5 Tips for Doctors:
1. Be On Time:
We get it. Things happen with patients and you fall behind schedule. That’s understandable. But take a good look at your office management practices. Are most of your patients always kept waiting? Do you feel constantly rushed? Are you double-booking patients assuming that one will cancel? Are you consistently cutting patient appointments short to try to catch up? If so, you might have practice management issues. Keeping your patients waiting tells them that you do not respect their time, and therefore, do not respect them. No one likes waiting. Fix your practice management issues. If your lateness was unavoidable, apologize and offer a brief explanation (that does not violate privilege or privacy rules, of course). A simple, “I am so sorry I am late. I had another patient that needed more attention than I anticipated.” This shows respect for your patient’s time, and also reinforces to them that you take the time you need with patients. (See Doctor Tip 2!)
2. Take The Time You Need With Each Patient:
At first glance, this may seem to fly in the face of Tip 1. But if you have a good intake and scheduling procedure, you should rarely go over allotted time. For example, if you know that a patient asks a lot of questions or offers long explanations, keep a note in their chart to give them an extended appointment.
3. Listen to Your Patients:
Engage in active listening. Try not to type notes in the electronic medical record while your patient is talking. When the patient is talking, face them and maintain eye contact. If you do not understand what the patient is saying, stop them and clarify. Patients are not going to speak your language. Try to figure out what they are trying to say. It could be important to their diagnosis and treatment. In the end, if one of the patient’s concerns is not significant, explain to them why it is insignificant.
4. Teach Your Patients:
How would you like for your patients to take ownership of their health? To actually follow your recommendations? How would you like to celebrate victories together? For those things to happen, your patients need to be educated. It is your job to teach them. A patient that doesn’t understand the effects and risks of high blood pressure and how their medication works to treat their blood pressure is not going to understand the importance of regularly taking their medication. This is especially true with medications where immediate results and consequences cannot be felt. All of your patients are going to have different learning styles – show and tell. They will all also have different intellectual capacities. Teach at their level and get them to understand as much as possible. But don’t give up or assume they will not understand. Make sure your patients engage in active listening by having them summarize what you told them. Encourage them to take notes. Write things down for them. Allow them to ask questions.
5. Trust Your Patients:
The fact is, most patients are not malingerers. And they know what their symptoms are. If a patient says his head hurts at the nape of the neck, more likely than not, their head hurts at the nape of the neck, not at their temple. Yes, referred pain is a thing. But don’t assume that any of their symptoms are anything other than what they say just because your diagnosis will fit more neatly. Try to be empathetic. Yes, you see their condition every day. It is routine. Mundane. To you – not to them. To them it is new, scary, maybe even life-changing. Try to show caring and understanding.