What Orthopedic Surgeons should know about their Med-Mal
Orthopedic surgery, also called orthopedics, is a surgical medical specialty that focuses on disorders affecting the musculoskeletal system. Orthopedists treat conditions like tumors, infections, and traumas to the musculoskeletal system.
In the eyes of malpractice insurers, surgical procedures present an increased risk of lawsuits for malpractice. Orthopedic surgeons must therefore pay medical malpractice insurance premiums for coverage that are at the high end of the spectrum. Premiums are widely disparate across states. Across all states, malpractice premiums are a significant expense of practice for orthopedists.
On average, an orthopedic surgeon is sued about twice in the course of his or her career. Though this is the reality of the malpractice environment, physicians can minimize the occurrence of lawsuits with risk management techniques. One of the most important ways for any physician to reduce malpractice risk is to use effective communication. This is particularly true in the specialty of orthopedics; orthopedists are often seeing patients for the first time and performing surgery on them immediately, while other specialists are given more of a chance to develop relationships with patients. A large body of research shows that patients who sue their doctors often feel that the doctors were impatient and uninterested. Patients who feel that their doctors were sympathetic and compassionate are less likely to sue. Though surgeons have busy schedules, it pays dividends to make a few changes in communication with patients; see fewer patients, personally share and explain test results with patients, and treat patients as you would a personal friend or family member. Developing a positive relationship with a patient greatly reduces the likelihood of a lawsuit. Research shows a strong negative correlation between the amount of time spent with patients before surgery and the occurrence of malpractice claims.
In addition to improving communication with patients, orthopedists should learn which procedures and surgeries are the riskiest. Research shows that surgeries on the lumbar spine are the most common cause of suits against orthopedists. When performing surgery in this area, physicians should be especially cautious in their risk management.
Another effective way to limit exposure to risk is to practice thorough documentation. This means keeping a complete record of each case, including the thought processes behind decisions. Having well-organized records can often exonerate physicians from blame when there is a lawsuit. Even orthopedists who practice perfect risk management should expect to be sued at some point in their careers. In the event of a suit, do not talk to anyone about the case, and never try to alter documents or records.
Orthopedists who are concerned about high liability insurance premiums should become involved in the push for tort reform. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the specialty’s leading professional society, maintains a medical liability reform position statement on its website. It recommends reforms to the system including mediation where appropriate, “safe harbor” for physicians who are following guidelines, specialized medical courts, limits on noneconomic damages, and shortened statutes of limitations. These measures would bring down the cost of liability insurance for physicians; orthopedists can advocate for them by lobbying their representatives in state and federal government.
Medical malpractice insurance can be one of the most expensive costs at your practice. We know this and that’s why we will shop your coverage to every insurance carrier that writes malpractice insurance policies for orthopedists. We have helped thousands of physicians save thousands of dollars. Let us help you save money, so you can put it where it belongs: back in your practice, and in your pocket.
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Important Resources for Orthopedic Surgeons
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Best Orthopedic Surgeons – US News Top Doctors
American Osteopathic Board of Orthopedic Surgery
Medical Malpractice Insurance Guide
Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research
Physician Assistants in Orthopaedic Surgery
Orthopedic Surgery Residency Ring