Working in healthcare is an incredibly noble job, but it’s one of the more stressful fields to work in as well – you’re literally saving peoples’ lives and dealing with life and death situations. In order to alleviate at least some of the stress you have to endure, it’s important to learn about the legal aspects of healthcare, and there are some key tips for healthcare professionals on how to protect themselves against wrongful claims.
1. Know What Constitutes Negligence And Malpractice
This is probably the most important tip on this list. Because of the nature of your job, you’ve probably encountered some unfortunate situations where you weren’t able to help a patient – at least not fully. Oftentimes, that results in disgruntled patients and family members who are looking to pursue legal action against you. Asking yourself questions like “what is medical malpractice” and “what constitutes negligence” can help you understand your rights and protect yourself better. Not every error made by a doctor or another healthcare professional is considered malpractice, so it’s important to know where the line is drawn.
For starters, medical malpractice is defined as any action – or lack thereof – made by a healthcare professional that deviates from the accepted standard of care and, as a result, causes harm to the patient. To put it simply, if you do something – or fail to do something – that another healthcare professional in your position would or wouldn’t do, and your actions result in the patient being harmed in some way, you can be sued for medical malpractice.
However, often, the reason for deviating from the standard of care needs to be caused by negligence on your part. If, for example, a patient was hiding their condition from you, and because of that they end up getting seriously hurt or even dying, then you haven’t committed malpractice. In this case, you would have done everything in your power to treat the patient properly, but what actually caused their death was their own decision. As such, there wouldn’t be grounds for a lawsuit against you.
2. Research Your State’s Regulations
Besides knowing the general outlines that define medical malpractice, it’s important to also research your state’s specific regulations. Whether you want to launch your own healthcare startup, or are just seeking a job in the field, this is crucial information to have. After all, every state has its own laws, and those laws can differ quite significantly from one another. Practically everything, from what a treatment facility needs to do in order to be licensed, to how long you have to file a medical malpractice lawsuit, is regulated by the state.
Among other reasons, this is important to be aware of because you could be liable for medical malpractice, even if you weren’t the one directly treating the patient. For example, if you’re a nurse and are working in a hospital that doesn’t properly dispose of waste or is contaminated by some disease, you could be labeled as being negligent even though you were just following standard procedure within that facility. Knowing the regulations will help you determine whether or not you should follow certain protocols, or if you are legally and ethically bound to deviate from them for the patient’s sake.
3. Don’t Overestimate Yourself
There might come a time when you receive a patient who’s beyond your skill level, or who has a condition that’s so rare that you’ve never even heard of it before. In such cases, it’s always better to seek help from a colleague or supervisor, rather than trying to treat the patient on your own and potentially making their condition worse. Similarly, if the place you work at is understaffed, you need to be keenly aware of your energy levels. No matter how willing you are, you can hardly do your best work if you’re exhausted and working on fumes. That might make you lose focus and provide subpar care.
On the other hand, being aware of your limits means that you can warn your employer that you’re not capable of handling a certain number of patients on your own and that they need to provide you with more support. This can help prevent accidents from happening in the first place, or at the very least, can help you avoid liability for a mistake that wasn’t really your fault.
4. Get Everything In Writing
Speaking of which, it’s incredibly important to get everything in writing. Sometimes, you may feel like insisting on having a written copy of something that could be just a conversation with your employer or your patient is overkill. However, if something goes wrong and a lawsuit does ensue, that conversation will become incredibly important. Going back to the previous example – if you feel overworked to the point where it’s starting to affect the quality of care you’re able to provide to your patience, and you talk to your superior about it but they don’t do anything to rectify the situation, having that conversation in writing can help prove that you did everything you could to avoid a mistake. That’s also why the many forms that patients have to sign – as well as explaining what it is they’re signing is so important. If a patient doesn’t understand what it is they’re consenting to, that could come back to bite you later on.
5. Keep Your Patients Informed
Above all, one of the best ways to protect yourself against wrongful claims is to keep your patients informed at every step of their treatment. That means explaining what you’re going to do before you actually do it, why it’s necessary, and what might happen as a result if something goes wrong. If there are multiple ways to treat a certain condition, but you believe one of them is best suited for the particular patient, you should explain that to them as well. This way, they can make an informed decision and they’ll be less likely to pursue legal action if something doesn’t work out. It’s important to stress that it’s more than just having them sign a form – you should actually sit down with them and explain everything in layman’s terms so that they can understand it.
6. Seek Legal Advice
People usually think about talking with a lawyer only after a legal issue has already occurred. However, it’s never too early to seek legal advice. A legal professional can help you understand what your rights are and what you will be expected to do in the event of a claim. They may also be able to guide you through any complicated medical malpractice issues that might arise. While this isn’t a particularly fun topic to talk about, it’s still an incredibly important one – so if you’re ever in the position of working in healthcare, make sure you take these tips to heart and do everything you can to protect yourself from wrongful claims.
By keeping these 6 tips in mind, you can protect yourself against wrongful claims and ensure that the quality of your work – as well as the safety of your patients – is never compromised. Do all you can to focus on providing top-notch care while also keeping yourself safe!