Be Nice - But Not Too Nice!

A Guest Blog by Donna Vanderpool, MBA, JD, Vice-President of Risk Management

When physician acquaintances find out that I make my living assisting physicians in managing their professional liability risk, they always want to know the one thing that they can do to avoid being sued for medical malpractice.

There is no panacea, of course; nothing can actually prevent all lawsuits. However, I do share my best two pieces of risk management advice – 1) deliver good clinical care, and 2) be nice, but not too nice. The first point needs no discussion – good clinical care usually results in satisfied patients and satisfied patients tend not to sue. It’s the second point that I’d like to address further.

Psychiatrists can easily find themselves in a situation where agreeing to help someone, such as a patient or a colleague, unexpectedly increases their own professional liability risk. Prior to agreeing to others’ seemingly reasonable requests, you should take time to evaluate your own exposure. For example –

Be careful when “helping” a patient in these situations:
• Bartering with a patient
• Prescribing large quantities of medication for other than purely clinical reasons
• Prescribing after termination of the psychiatrist-patient relationship
• Treating patients remotely
• Failing to terminate the treatment relationship for continued patient non-adherence
• Not asking for proof of a substitute decision-maker’s authority
• Taking on the dual role of expert witness, in addition to being the treating psychiatrist
• Giving a deposition without notifying your insurance company prior (if you are insured with The Psychiatrist’s Program® notify us)

And, be careful when “helping” a colleague in these situations:
• Prescribing for a colleague
• Agreeing not to keep records
• Renting office space for a percentage of fees collected

For more information about how a bit of self-preservation can go a long way in minimizing your professional liability risk in the examples listed above, we’ve written an article on the topic. Participants of The Psychiatrists’ Program® can also contact your Risk Managers directly at 800-527-9181 to discuss any risk management question or concern.

Donna Vanderpool, MBA, JD – Vice President
As Vice President of Risk Management, Ms. Vanderpool is responsible for the development and implementation of PRMS’s risk management services for both The Psychiatrists’ Program and The Neurologists’ Program. Ms. Vanderpool has developed expertise in the areas of HIPAA and forensic practice, and has consulted, written and spoken nationally on these and other healthcare law and risk management topics. She most recently wrote a chapter concerning the risks of harm to forensic experts for Robert L. Sadoff, MD’s book Ethical Issues in Forensic Psychiatry: Minimizing Harm, (Feb. 2011/Wiley). Ms. Vanderpool received her undergraduate degree from James Madison University, and her MBA and JD from George Mason University. Prior to joining PRMS in 2000, Ms. Vanderpool practiced criminal defense law, taught business and legal courses as an adjunct faculty member at a community college and spent eight years managing a general surgical practice in Virginia.
Categories: PRMS Blog, Risk Management