Communication Breakdown = PL Claim

Communication is key. Defining clear objectives, limiting unreasonable expectations, and keeping the client reasonably informed of any developments in the matter at hand all go a long way to maintaining client satisfaction.  However, not all professionals prioritize these relatively simple measures for successful representation. According to a recent study investigating malpractice claims against medical professionals, poor communication is a major contributor to liability actions.  The study analyzed over 1800 lawsuits against doctors arising between 2007 and 2014, with a focus on the specific elements that led to patient injury.

The most common patient allegation in the study, accounting for almost half of the cases, was improper performance of surgery.  The study authors determined that this allegation was usually made when the outcome of the procedure differed from the patient’s expectation, and that only a small percentage of patient injuries were due to substandard care or technical failure of the doctor.  Similarly, one of the major factors contributing to patient injury in the study was failure of the patient to adhere to the doctor’s treatment plan.  The study attributed patient nonadherence to inadequate communication between the patient and physician.

The study concluded that helping patients understand information provided during the informed consent process is critical to client satisfaction, and that engaging the patient and family when complications do occur helps to reduce the likelihood that the patient will pursue a claim.

The study then offered several risk mitigation strategies that apply to professionals across the board:

  • Always discuss the result with the client to ensure that it comports with the client’s expectations.  Even when good care is provided, a client may pursue a claim where the result is not consistent with client expectations.
  • Document communications and client requests.  Whenever an important decision is being made that could affect client outcomes, be sure to document the client’s agreement to avoid any future dispute.
  • Clearly explain potential consequences of a client’s failure to follow professional advice.  If a client disagrees with the professional’s proposal or fails to adhere to a strategy, the professional should outline the possible consequences to the client and document the conversation.

While good communication practices cannot eliminate all professional liability claims, they are an important factor in reducing risk to all professionals and keeping clients happy.