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Legal Risks in Urgent Care Medicine

Due to recent trends in health care, urgent care centers (UCCs) and their physicians are increasingly being sued for medical malpractice and receiving formal complaints from licensing and regulatory agencies. One reason for the increased legal threat is that patients visit urgent care centers with more serious medical conditions than in the past. Due to the high cost, long wait, and relative scarcity of emergency departments (EDs), individuals are now opting for the convenience of urgent care centers over the ED. Urgent care centers have become more prevalent in the delivery of medical care in America, so it is important to recognize these unique areas of liability exposure.

This trend creates many problems that pose significant legal risks to UCCs and their physicians. Unlike EDs, UCCs lack the diagnostic equipment necessary to perform proper triage and patient transfers out. For example, most UCCs do not have ultrasound or CT capabilities. Therefore, physicians and owners of UCCs need to be prepared for potential lawsuits and administrative complaints so that they can prevent them or, at worst case, reduce the damages.

The most common allegations of medical negligence for UCCs are related to failure to diagnose, failure to treat, failure to report, and failure to follow up. Having an attorney involved before these allegations occur, rather than after, will make it easier on UCCs and their physicians to prevent costly and lengthy legal proceedings. Legal liability is a cost of doing business in medicine, but there are many ways physicians and practice staffs can insulate themselves against liability.

What Can UCCs Do to Minimize Legal Risks?

Attorneys at Chapman Law Group can help you establish a risk management plan which addresses several important areas. The key to an effective risk management program is to be aware of issues that affect your level of loss exposure. Chapman Law Group can provide urgent care centers and their physicians with timely information on evolving legal exposures and access to risk identification and awareness programs.

Urgent care medicine is an emerging method of delivering care and, as such, is potentially vulnerable for many reasons. This includes the lack of uniform standards, guidelines, and/or protocols that may make it easy for plaintiff’s lawyers to take advantage of. Below are just a few elements of an effective risk management plan that Chapman Law Group can help you develop.

Proper Medico-Legal Documentation

Careful documentation is paramount to protecting oneself from allegations of improper medical care. Physicians should take the time to thoroughly chart all important aspects of the physical examination because information that is not charted might be subject to jury suspicion down the line. Illegible handwritten notes and checkbox or template charting often produce documentation that is not defensible under the retrospective scrutiny of plaintiffs’ experts.

Effective Patient Communications

UCCs should be careful in how they hold themselves out to the public and should communicate to the patient the exact nature of the relationship between the patient and the center. Patient communication is vital because UCC physicians are not as likely to build relationships with patients in the way that primary care physicians do, and that lack of rapport can also make a patient more likely to sue. Detailed discharge and follow-up instructions must be clearly communicated to the patient.