Questionnaires, Surveys, Follow-up Calls, and Dealing with Hospitals after Receiving Care: Tread Carefully to Protect Medical Malpractice Claims
Surveys are great, I have designed and used them myself for decades. They’re excellent for many reasons, and so it’s good to see a hospital follow-up to be sure the care it provided was well-received.
Years of litigation has made me jaded, however. I can’t help but think about patients who at the moment believe they received excellent care and completed the survey accordingly, but then suffer an injury that is subsequently linked to the actions or inactions of the medical staff at the facility. Those defendants then try to use the survey against the patient-plaintiffs. So tread carefully.
This is not to suggest that you do not complete these surveys. They can be very helpful and even lead to improved patient care. We certainly do not want to discourage that. We want hospitals to have continuous improvement programs, but as in so many other aspects of life, be careful.
There may be no rush to return such surveys, other than that the longer you wait, the less likely you do it. But, you can probably at least wait until your symptoms have subsided and you have had a chance to confirm the treatment you received was proper.
Additionally, think carefully about each question. You may want to wait on some that pertain to the quality or adequacy of care, for example. You might wait until you have follow-up medical care before coming to any conclusions so that you have the benefit of insight from a, preferably, independent healthcare professional.
As another example, questions about wait times seem pretty harmless and appear to present little to no risk to a future medical malpractice claim, but understaffing can, in fact, be a basis for medical malpractice claims. So while the questions may appear to reflect routine business practices and be well-intended, there can be some unintended consequences for you in the future. So again, let’s all contribute to making things run well and to doing better, but also be careful about prejudicing ourselves in the process. Take time to do it right; that is in your best interest and benefits the hospital in the long run too by assuring it obtains complete and accurate information.
Also be careful when speaking with hospital representatives via phone surveys or reporting complaints, concerns, or problems to risk management departments or representatives.
Along the same lines, I recall receiving a letter suggesting we call the risk management department if we had any concerns about the care we received. That is the same department we call as plaintiffs’ lawyers when we want to assert a medical malpractice claim on behalf of our personal injury clients, so again, my antennae stand up.
Before you speak with anyone, think critically, especially if you have suffered an adverse outcome from treatment. What you say can and likely will be used against you if you have to assert a personal injury claim at a later point. Again, your healthcare comes first and worrying about the existence of a potential lawsuit in the distant future should not stand in the way of speaking with healthcare professionals to receive the necessary treatment. But if the risk management department or some similar group in name or function is calling, or you have problems and call them, understand where things may be headed and be careful.
If you have had an adverse health outcome, for example, you might want to speak with a medical professional before speaking with a “risk manager.” The job title and department should tell imply why this makes sense. You might need to talk with a medical malpractice lawyer after consulting a medical professional if that person suggests you received inadequate, inappropriate care, or care that caused or contributed to your injuries, for example. So again, regarding interacting with the hospital after you receive care, tread carefully and think critically.
With all that said, what’s most important is your health. It is not our intent to add more stress to an already stressful situation. A skillful lawyer can often deal with surveys, questionnaires, and a layperson’s statements to a risk manager, so first and foremost, take care of yourself and do what is in your best interest.
Moreover, not every mistake is malpractice. We all make mistakes, yours truly included. Not all mistakes, even ones that fall below the standard of care and that constitute medical malpractice negligence are actionable. The negligent actions or omissions may not result in serious injuries or the damages associated with the injuries do not justify a lawsuit. Our family has experienced medical mistakes and not brought lawsuits because that is not always the proper course of action and it is a very personal choice.
Nonetheless, serious problems do sometimes arise and warrant investigation. You can always consult a medical malpractice lawyer, but remember to do so as soon as you suspect you were injured or learn someone may be at fault because there are strict timelines within which you must file a lawsuit called statutes of limitations, and they can prohibit you from filing a lawsuit, your claim could be lost forever. Once that happens, you may be left with regret for not investigating. This is one area in life where it is sometimes better to have tried and failed.
Justin Browne, Esq