The healthcare industry continues to face many risks today. With the pressures of life and the high cost of living, medical practitioners work long hours and inevitably that brings higher chances of making mistakes. Medical malpractice or negligence can be defined as a failure to follow standards of care that are acceptable by medical professionals, resulting in injury, damage or loss. Some mistakes may be due to fatigue, others from carelessness, as well as a variety of other possible reasons.

Patients quick to go for litigation

Just as allegations of malpractice have risen, all over the world litigation trends have also risen significantly. Part of the increase is attributed to patients who are very quick to take legal actions against medical malpractice instead of resolving the issue through dialogue, even in the case of an honest mistake made by a medical practitioner. Litigation can be very costly and time-consuming. According to one paper (Cohen & Hughes, 2007), malpractice cases in Malaysia can take up to four years to resolve. Though some say it is advisable to settle these cases outside court, as both the medical practitioner and patient can save time and money, sometimes this is simply just not to be.

In Singapore, the Straits Times reported that claims against doctors recorded a 90% rise from 2006 to 2011. Out of these claims, only around 1% was brought to the court, and more than half were settled financially. A recent example was in July of 2015, where a Singapore doctor stated the cause of death of two patients wrongly and tried to cover it up. He eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of professional negligence and was given a three-year suspension, and was also fined a total of $6,000.

How the rest of Asia compares

Compared to Singapore, developing countries in Asia reported a lower number of malpractice claims. Healthcare establishments and practitioners were said to be protected by the profound respect people have for the medical profession. The idea of suing healthcare professionals is entirely foreign, particularly in countries where civil liberties are not very much adhered to. In these countries, insurance for medical professionals is optional or even unnecessary.

However, this is changing as Macau and Malaysia are pushing for compulsory professional indemnity insurance for their doctors and other countries may also follow their lead. As the rising middle class in Asia can access high-quality care by going to Singapore or the aesthetic medicine sector by visiting Korea, Thailand and Hong Kong, exposure to possible malpractice is wider and thus it is crucial for medical practitioners to be insured against malpractice claims.

Clear communication key to avoid malpractice lawsuits

Unfortunately, giving the best care or going the extra mile in healthcare may no longer be enough to protect healthcare professionals from legal actions taken against them in today’s world. While relevant authorities in Singapore are seeking to change the conduct of medical lawsuits to avoid ‘defensive medicine’, where the doctor’s consciousness of risks of liability form any malpractice affected their practice of medicine adversely, medical practitioners can start protecting themselves by getting medical malpractice insurance. The increase in malpractice claims was also noted to arise from miscommunication between patients and medical practitioners rather than deterioration in the quality of healthcare. Thus, ensuring clear and consistent communication with patients and establishing a good doctor-patient relationship is also important to avoid patients filing a malpractice claim against their medical practitioners. MIMS

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