A surgeon can be sued for Medical Malpractice if he or she failed to properly communicate care instructions to a patient after the surgery.
Recently Web M&M analyzed the case of a woman who needed arthroscopic surgery after she tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee.
The surgeon talked to the patient before the surgery and gave her postoperative instructions for ACL repair that included 50% weight bearing immediately after the surgery
During the surgery, the surgeon discovered that the ACL was only partially torn and opted for a different type of procedure that would be more adapted to the patient’s condition. The surgery performed was a microfracture and a meniscus repair.
While the patient was recovering in the postanesthesia care unit, the surgeon briefed her about the change of surgery and gave her new postoperative instructions that included not to bear weight at all for 6 months.
The patient who was still feeling the effects of the anesthesia asked the surgeon to communicate the instructions to her husband who was coming to pick her up. Instead the surgeon called the number listed on the patient’s chart and talked to the mother-in-law who completely misunderstood the instructions.
When the husband arrived to pick up his wife he was given generic discharge instructions with a handwritten phrase from the surgeon that said “do as instructed”. Confused by that sentence, the patient followed the original instructions and forced herself to bear weight after the surgery. When she started to be in pain she called the surgeon who berated her because she hadn’t follow the postoperative plan.
By failing to properly communicate discharge instructions, the surgeon committed medical malpractice. He put the patient at risk for further injury and diminished her chances for a full recovery.
Unfortunately miscommunication at discharge happens too frequently. According to studies 75% of patients demonstrate knowledge deficits in at least one domain of their discharge information and 50% in two domains. The rate of adverse event after 3 weeks of discharge is 20%.