What to Do When a Patient Threatens Legal Action

Health Jobs

Unless there has been some serious oversight in your medical education, you are aware that one of the skills a medical professional simply needs to develop is a thick skin. Caring for patients is one of the things that every healthcare worker believes in, and in many ways, it is the central thing about working in health jobs. You’ve only got the calling if a desire to do precisely this is what animates you. 

Nevertheless, the reward for doing so is rarely heaps of praise and thanks from the patient themselves; these people are ill and often uncomfortable, and they can be very rude. Every healthcare professional knows how to take nothing personally. 

However, this isn’t the only way a patient can make your job more difficult. Something of a nightmare scenario for many medical professionals and healthcare institutions alike is when a patient threatens to sue. Even with the best of intentions (and the intentions are usually pure), things can go wrong, and the patient could threaten legal action. Depending on what has actually happened, this can be an exceedingly difficult situation indeed, one with potentially severe consequences. 

Do They Have Grounds?

Of course, these types of situations can be split into two distinct categories – when the patient has sound grounds for legal action and when they don’t. In either case, your response should be similar, but you can perhaps rest a bit easier if the patient is suing you for something that reflects no misconduct or negligence on the part of yourself or the healthcare institution. 

Nonetheless, you should always begin to assess the situation by going about things the right way. You should have a methodical response and you should make sure you do not exacerbate the situation (easier said than done, we know). 

According to one survey, 15% of physicians have been sued at least once in their careers. Yet, Health Job Nationwide, an online healthcare recruitment service offering nurse practitioner jobs among others, say that dealing with legal action is rarely something new medical recruits are prepared for – you are not studying law! 

Nevertheless, if it happens to you, you should remember that you’re not the first and you certainly won’t be the last. Moreover, threats of legal action can happen to any physician, regardless of their expertise or the point in their career they’re at. 

What To Do 

So, for those dreading this type of situation, here’s what you can do:

Try to Resolve the Situation

Threats of legal action are typically made during times of extreme stress, when a patient feels like they have been seriously underserved and are suffering on account of it. Legal action is expensive, and the situation could perhaps be resolved before it turns into an actual lawsuit. Talk things over with the patient and ask them why they feel legal action is necessary. If you can find a way to address their grievance yourself then make some effort to do that. 

Document Everything 

Attorneys rely on records, so immediately after your conversation with the patient, document the content of the talk. Written records are what lawyers work with, not mere recollections. Be as descriptive as possible and document all further interaction. 

Follow Hospital Procedure 

Don’t be a maverick. The healthcare institution you work at will have its own protocols for dealing with lawsuits. Follow them to the letter and consult with all relevant colleagues. It’s never wise to fight this type of thing on your own. 

If you follow these tips, eventually contacting your own attorney might not even be necessary. And if it is, you’ll at least be in the best possible position.

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