Doctors are often concerned about facing health care lawsuits, despite their best efforts, and so they look for ways to reduce the risk. Naturally, avoiding mistakes and providing a high quality of care are the best ways to do this, but there are other tactics that can help. According to one study, the doctor-patient relationship could be the key.
The study found that positive "communication behaviors" helped patients feel like their doctors had a higher level of competence. This implies that, even if mistakes were made, the patients would be less likely to blame the doctor if he or she was open and highly communicative throughout the process. They would trust the doctor more and have more faith in that relationship than they would with a physician who did not communicate as well -- even if both doctors had the same level of skill and competence.
Not only did patients feel like doctors were better at their jobs, but they also were less likely to consider malpractice claims that targeted the hospital and the doctor at the same time. Even when there were severe outcomes and they wanted to sue, they were more likely to want to sue the hospital, without suing the physician if he or she had excellent communication skills.
This study shows just how important the doctor-patient relationship is, even when adverse outcomes occur. It's critical for doctors to know how to craft their relationships with patients, both to help avoid mistakes and to lower the odds of a lawsuit.
That being said, doctors who are facing health care lawsuits still need to know all of the rights and legal options that they have. A record of communication and transparency can sometimes help in these situations, as well.
Source: NCBI, "Medical malpractice: the effect of doctor-patient relations on medical patient perceptions and malpractice intentions.," PJ Moore, accessed Nov. 23, 2016