If malpractice strikes, are you ready?

Every dermatologist wants to avoid malpractice lawsuits. But lawsuits can’t always be avoided. When the worst happens, it pays to have a strategy in place to protect your assets.

“It doesn’t really matter if something went wrong or if a patient mistakenly believes something went wrong, both can lead to lawsuits,” said David Goldberg, MD, JD, director of Skin Laser & Surgery Specialists of NY/NJ. “You need to protect yourself against the legal perils in the practice of dermatology and protect your assets so you can move on with your life if the worst happens.”

During Medicolegal Issues” (F039), Dr. Goldberg and a panel of experts will explore the legal perils unique to dermatology, strategies to mitigate risks, the outlook for tort reform, and strategies that help dermatologists protect their assets. The session will be presented from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Friday in Room 203.

He also is chief of dermatology at Hackensack University Medical Center, clinical professor of dermatology and director of laser research at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, clinical professor of dermatology and chief of dermatologic surgery at UMDNJ-Rutgers Medical School, and adjunct professor of law at Fordham Law School.

Many of the perils associated with dermatology are concentrated in two areas, Dr. Goldberg said.

One area is the interface between dermatology and dermatopathology. There are specific risks associated with taking biopsies, reading biopsies, and the interactions between dermatologist and dermatopathologist.

Another key area is the practice of cosmetic dermatology, especially the use of energy-based devices.

“To the skin, whether energy is being delivered through a laser, through a light source, through microwave, or through ultrasound, it doesn’t matter. In the end, it is all heat. Some instruments have higher incidences of complications than others. Complications are all about how much heating and cooling of the skin you are doing.”

Complications are a given in dermatology, but lawsuits don’t have to be. The best defense against a malpractice suit is good informed consent. Not just a verbal discussion of the procedure and the potential outcomes, but a written, informed consent signed by the patient that emphasizes the same points the dermatologist discusses with the patient.

“If there is a lawsuit and you have only verbal consent, it very quickly becomes a ‘he said, she said’ issue,” Dr. Goldberg explained. “When someone signs that informed consent document, even if they later say they didn’t read it or didn’t understand it, it is assumed that they did read it and that they did understand it. The best defense is clear, written informed consent.”

The best informed consent can’t prevent a malpractice lawsuit, he said. But a well-written and signed informed consent greatly reduces the odds of losing a suit.

The third presentation will explore how tort reform may, or may not, change the medical malpractice universe after the presidential election this fall. The one certainty in tort reform is that malpractice suits will continue. Dermatologists must act now to protect their assets before a lawsuit happens.

A final lecture will explore proven asset protection strategies specific to dermatology and dermatologists.

“Virtually every other session at the Annual Meeting will teach you the state-of-the-art in some area of dermatology,” Dr. Goldberg said. “This is the only session to deal with the practicalities of preventing something from going wrong and dealing with the repercussions if it does.”

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