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Protecting yourself against non-compliant patients

On Behalf of | Sep 19, 2023 | Professional Malpractice |

Despite your best efforts as a physician, there are still a number of patients who don’t follow their orders, which can lead to disastrous results. Most of the time, the root of non-compliance comes from a lack of understanding from the patient. Even though patients and doctors should work together to stick to a treatment plan, a patient’s failure to do so may increase your risk for liability.

Reasons for non-compliance

A non-compliant patient is one who intentionally refuses to adhere to the treatment plan or take prescription medication as per their doctor’s instructions. However, if these treatments can improve their health, then why do patients disobey their doctors’ orders? Among the most common reasons are:

  • Financial constraints: Ongoing medicines and therapy can be costly.
  • Lack of understanding: Some patients may have been uncomfortable to ask questions or have poor health literacy or comprehension.
  • Mistrust: Patients may distrust their doctors due to conflicting cultural beliefs or negative media depictions. Meanwhile, some patients wish to avoid drug dependency.
  • Medication side effects: Patients often seek either a quick recovery or minimal adverse effects. If they don’t improve or experience new side effects, they may discontinue taking their medicine.

Other factors may contribute to a patient’s failure to take their medical care seriously. Unfortunately, patients tend to blame their doctor first when their condition worsens as a result of their non-compliance. Therefore, doctors should take precautions to safeguard themselves and double-check that they’ve exhausted all options to ensure patients take their medications.

Protecting yourself and your patients

Almost every doctor will face a malpractice claim. While the success rate of patients pursuing legal action against their doctors is low, when you are a physician, facing a malpractice lawsuit creates major issues. Litigation would cost you time and money, and it may also damage your reputation.

To avoid legal troubles, you may consider taking the following precautions:

  • Schedule a follow-up appointment
  • Provide a written copy of instructions to reinforce any verbal instructions
  • Offer telehealth services for patients who have trouble coming to appointments or cannot accommodate home visits
  • Provide patients with access to health resources
  • Assess how likely patients are to comply and if they will need help to do so

More importantly, you should diligently document your efforts to provide instructions, educate and respond to patient concerns. Having records showing that patients understood instructions and gained access to resources could help physicians build a stronger defense. Additionally, you may want to monitor patient compliance and intervene if needed.