Categories: Medical Malpractice Defense, Patient Care,

According to the recently-published 2013 Malpractice Report from Medscape, an online medical newsletter, a leading cause of tension between doctors and patients is a failure to follow directions, especially doctors’ orders. When doctors prescribe medications and order patients to follow treatment plans, they expect that with these methods of treatment, the patient’s illness can be cured or controlled. But medical malpractice defense attorneys in Fort Lauderdale say that these doctors often face lawsuits when disregarded orders lead to a less than favorable outcome. 

In several instances cited in the Malpractice Report, primary care physicians on trial testified that their patients were at fault for failing to take their advice, or follow up with the doctor during their treatment plan. In one case, a doctor urged his patient to see a radiologist, but did not realize that she did not do so after her appointment with him. Another doctor claimed that his patient failed to follow up at a later date, which would have determined a better course of action for treating his illness. 

The Institute of Medicine reports that almost half of all adults in the country do not fully understand what their doctors explain to them regarding their health status and proper care. Patients with lower literacy rates may have trouble comprehending doctor’s orders, especially when they are peppered with medical terminology not commonly used by those outside the medical field. Statistics have shown that 26 percent of patients do not know when their next appointment has been scheduled; 42 percent do not comprehend directions to take their pills on an empty stomach, or before eating; and almost 80 percent do not fully read and understand the warnings on their prescriptions, leaving them open to dangerous side effects or complications. 

Another area of miscommunication is the written instructions patients sometimes receive after their visit to the doctor’s. Shorthand or unclear handwriting can throw off a treatment plan, causing the patient to take medication incorrectly or insufficiently. In one instance cited in the study, a doctor told a patient to have an enema before her visit, using one quarter of a tablespoon of salt dissolved in a quart of water. The patient misread the written instructions, and instead mixed 44 tablespoons of salt into her water, putting herself at great risk for complications. 

One way to avoid the lawsuits that can stem from these misunderstandings and unclear directions is to reiterate every instruction to the patient in clear, direct language, medical malpractice defense attorneys in Fort Lauderdale recommend. If primary care physicians take time to go over their directions, and have the patient repeat the instructions back to them, there is less risk that the patient will claim he or she did not understand, or that the doctor never communicated those directions. In repeating directions many times, the doctor can enforce in the patient’s mind what he or she needs to do. 

At Fort Lauderdale law firm Lubell Rosen, medical malpractice defense attorneys caution doctors to provide clear instructions, and reiterate every step of the care plan to avoid backlash from patients who misunderstand or fail to follow through. The attorneys at Lubell Rosen represent doctors in Florida who have been sued for malpractice.