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Commentary |

Reducing Legal Risk by Practicing Patient-Centered Medicine

Heidi P. Forster, JD; Jack Schwartz, JD; Evan DeRenzo, PhD
Arch Intern Med. 2002;162(11):1217-1219. doi:10.1001/archinte.162.11.1217.
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FEAR OF legal liability weighs heavily on the minds of many physicians.1,2 This fear all too often distorts the practice of medicine3 and undermines a sense of professional integrity. Anyone who has participated in ethics committee case consultations or who has rounded with medical teams in intensive care units or on the wards will know how easily the discussion can devolve into a single-minded focus on legality. The fear of liability, and the consequent practice of "defensive medicine" to avoid lawsuits, leads to a paradox. When physicians are overly concerned with the threat of law, do not understand the reasons people sue, and fail to understand the medical malpractice system, they engage in behaviors that, ironically, make themselves more vulnerable to lawsuits. The predominant focus of physicians should instead be on demonstrating the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that result in a patient's or family's maintaining respect for a physician even in the face of a bad outcome. Keeping this focus can be the most effective legal protection.

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The American Medical Association is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians. The AMA designates this journal-based CME activity for a maximum of 1 AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM per course. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. Physicians who complete the CME course and score at least 80% correct on the quiz are eligible for AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM.
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