Five Types of Patients Who Might Sue You for Malpractice

Knowing which patients are more likely to sue than others allows you to take preventive measures.
In his book, The Satisfied Patient, healthcare attorney James W. Saxton describes these difficult patients as the types who are behind 85% of malpractice cases.

1. Patients who complain about their past healthcare providers.
For example, “Dr. Smith is so stupid that he said my back pain is caused by stress.” “Dr. Jones is one of the worst dentists I’ve ever met.” “No one trusts Dr. Quack Wilson.”
If patients complain to you about their past doctors, they will certainly complain about you too.

2. Patients who blame others for their problems.
For example, “I haven’t seen a dentist for 10 years because my last dentist was so rude.” “I can’t stop smoking because of my work stress.” “If my last endodontist had better equipment, I’d still have that tooth.”
Instead of taking responsibility for their conditions, these patients seek targets to blame.

3. Patients who do not listen to you.
Some patients are too distracted, indifferent or busy to listen. When you give them important information or instructions, they brush it off and say, “Yeah, yeah, okay, thanks.”

4. Patients who do not understand what you tell them.
If a patient cannot understand you, he or she will leave confused and unsatisfied. Some patients do not understand very much English. Others are handicapped by their condition or by a medication.
Even if patients nod their heads it does not mean they understand you.

5. Patients who do not do what you ask them to do.
For example, they do not follow your home-care instructions, fail to set appointments with specialists or miss appointments.


With risky patients, take more care to document the visits and telephone calls. Warn your staff members to watch what they say or do around these patients. Remove potential reasons to sue you.

Ensure patient complaints are always resolved. Give your staff members written guidelines on how to handle unhappy patients. Never ignore potential problems, but dig in and face them.

Provide plenty of clear, simple education material. Ensure you have translated material for all languages used in your community. Train your staff on how to educate your patients.

Involve your patients in their care. Give them responsibilities. Ensure they understand what might happen if they fail to follow your advice.

Give your recommendations in writing. Make them so clear that everyone on a jury would understand them. When the responsibilities are critical, include them in informed consent forms that they must sign.

Ensure patients carry out their responsibilities. Set up systems so they don’t fall through the cracks. Send letters to warn them about their failures to act and instructions on what they can do to get back on track.

As well as you and your staff giving your patients excellent care and service, be their friends. After all, friends do not sue friends!

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