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Tips to improve your odds of surviving a medical malpractice claim

Practice medicine long enough, and it's bound to happen; over the course of a medical career, in all likelihood you will face multiple malpractice lawsuits. A recent analysis of data from 40,916 physicians published in the medical journal Health Affairs found that the average physician spends a lifetime total of 50.7 months with an unresolved, open malpractice claim.

In a 40 year career, that means the average doctor will spend almost 11 percent of his or her time under the shadow of a malpractice claim. Fortunately for medical practitioners, many of these claims prove unfounded, and are defeated after a legal defense is presented.

While a malpractice claim is the last thing doctors hope for, it is something most physicians will face at one point or another. That being the case, there are certain actions all doctors can take to proactively protect themselves from coming out on the losing end of a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Take steps to show that you have lived up to the standard of care

If you are facing a malpractice action, the plaintiff's goal is to show that you have deviated from the appropriate standard of care. The standard of care is based on what a reasonable physician would have done under the same circumstances.

The standard of care is rarely, if ever, a well-defined line. In deciding whether or not you have breached the applicable standard of care, a judge or jury will consider many factors.

There are a number of things you can do as a physician to not only ensure you live up to the standard of care, but also to help project a favorable image in court in the event you are sued for malpractice. One of the simplest is staying up to date on medical literature and any changing patterns of care, particularly in your specialty field. When you are asked in a deposition or during testimony in court about which medical journals or textbooks you read, you do not want to have to say that you don't follow any medical literature.

Proper and thorough documentation is also essential to safeguard yourself against a malpractice judgment. Always document informed consent, and if possible, have informed consent forms witnessed. If an adverse event does occur, it is equally important to make a record of what happens after the fact. Your records should be a roadmap to your thought process during treatment; a thorough, logical progression of treatment records shows your professionalism and is compelling to judges and juries. Of course, you should never alter documents in the treatment record, which not only looks bad, but is fraudulent behavior.

Finally, be cognizant of your mannerisms toward patients and their families, particularly following an adverse event. While you should never be self-depreciating after an adverse event, you should be honest and straightforward with patients and their families. Always maintain your composure, and keep emotions in check, even around colleagues - remember, they could be called to testify in a malpractice action. Check in with patients to see how they are doing; a daily phone call to a patient can send a powerful message to judges and juries.

Learn more from an experienced medical malpractice defense attorney

There are many steps you can take to preemptively head off a malpractice action. But, odds are, you will still have to face a medical malpractice claim at some point. If you prepare for that eventuality, and get the right legal help from an experienced medical malpractice defense attorney, you can come out on top. Contact a medical malpractice defense attorney today to explore your legal options.