When carelessly conducted, telephone communications can lead to diagnostic errors and misunderstandings that culminate in medical malpractice claims and lawsuits.
Telephone conversations may be inherently deceptive because reliable communication is incomplete without facial expressions and body language to clarify and qualify what the voice is expressing.
Once you offer dental advice on the phone, you can legally become the attending doctor of a patient you have never seen. The best way to protect yourself from such potential liability is to practice effective telephone communication:
Following these telephone loss prevention measures will help you avoid giving inadequate information or experiencing a miscommunication:
Disagreements about what was said are invariably a major problem when cases are tried. It is of prime importance, therefore, to obtain all of the necessary information on the phone. If you still feel there is any area of ambiguity, we strongly advise that you see the patient. The critical point is that you must arrive at an accurate and totally reliable appraisal of the patient’s condition either while you are on the phone or within a few minutes thereafter. Use standard language when at all possible.
The information you received, what you advised, and the orders you gave must be immediately recorded to avoid future discrepancies about what was said. This is especially important when the phone call occurs after office hours or on weekends. During office hours, take steps to resolve the caller’s questions and problems. The patient’s problem should be appropriately addressed, and the process should be documented. Office staff should tell the caller when the doctor is most likely to return his or her call and follow up to ensure that the caller’s questions and problems were resolved.
Effective communication is particularly important on the telephone. Doctors who use telephones carefully will reduce misunderstandings that can lead to legal action.
By Susan Shepard, MSN, RN, Director, Patient Safety Education.
The guidelines suggested here are not rules, do not constitute legal advice, and do not ensure a successful outcome. The ultimate decision regarding the appropriateness of any treatment must be made by each healthcare provider in light of all circumstances prevailing in the individual situation and in accordance with the laws of the jurisdiction in which the care is rendered.