I'm Going To Sue You

Rick Johnson, for HealthLeaders Media , September 13, 2007

I bet that headline grabbed your attention. Just think how much less stressful life would be if you could discern your patients' true intentions. After all, if you knew a patient was prone to sue, you could take early action to protect your interests. Certainly, the majority of your patients come to you for reasons that are medical and not litigious.

Healthcare attorney James W. Saxton agrees. "About 15 percent of your patients create about 85 percent of your risk," he says. "But that 15 percent can be a tough bunch."

So how do you recognize when someone is among the risky 15 percent? Saxton offers these tips to identify them:

  • Patients who complain about their past healthcare provider. (Are you going to be next?)
  • Patients who have chronic physical, psychological, or emotional problems. These individuals are often quick to blame others for their health problems, including you-so pay close attention to them.
  • Patients who do not understand their care or the information you offer them. Perhaps there is a language or cultural barrier, or the patient has a mental impairment. Patients who do not understand your opinions and advice will likely leave your office feeling disappointed and unsatisfied.
  • Patients who do not listen to what you say. Sometimes a patient's schedule is just as busy as the physician's. These patients are often two steps ahead of themselves, and may not pay attention when you give them important information or instructions.

And when you or your staff interacts with these types of unpleasant patients, the common human reaction is to rush through your work and get them out the door as quickly as possible. In fact, Saxton recommends doing the opposite.

In a book he recently published with HealthLeaders Media, The Satisfied Patient, Saxton warns readers to be mindful of malpractice risks and focus on providing these types of patients with outstanding medical care and customer service, as you would any patient; however, these tell-tale signs should make you be more cognizant of potentially needed additional strategies on patient education, understanding, and involvement.

"Many physicians say they do not have time to handhold needy patients," says Saxton. "But you can develop strategies for dealing with these patients. After all, the tone you take with your patients leaves more of an impression than the amount of time you spend with them."

Rick Johnson is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media. He can be reached at rjohnson@healthleadersmedia.com.

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