Poor risk communication leads to medical negligence case

Date: Jun 07, 2016

For both medical professionals and patients, decisions around surgical processes bring with them a host of challenges and concerns. For surgeons, they need to be aware of what each procedure entails and how risky it might for the patient in question. 

A patient, on the other hand, will be thinking about whether or not the surgery is an emergency or an elective procedure and what their recovery period might look like. As a recent medical negligence case before the courts found, however, it's important that these two parties are able to communicate effectively.

If they can't, or if medical professionals withhold information that may affect a patient's ongoing wellbeing, it can lead to significant health problems for the patient down the track. 

How communication affects surgical success

A recent case in NSW detailed what can go wrong if a doctor, nurse or other medical professional is unable to communicate potential surgical difficulties effectively. In this example, the patient did not have a good grasp on the English language and believes she did not understand the full range of potential implications prior to an operation she had in 2009. 

The procedure intended to remove a tumour that had developed on an acoustic nerve. However, during the procedure, one of her facial nerves was severed which means she now suffers from facial palsy. While the patient had a number of different translators with her over the course of the consultation process – including both a friend and accredited professionals – she alleged the potential risks were not clearly communicated. 

The case brings to light what it means for medical professionals to provide a duty of care to their patients. According to a judgement pulled from a preceding case, it's a balance between letting patients make their own choice while also being able to guide and influence them correctly. 

The statements reads: "Except in cases of emergency or necessity, all medical treatment is preceded by the patient's choice to undergo it." However, the case also noted that this report is "meaningless unless it is made on the basis of relevant information and advice."

Currently, this particular case is still being appealed, but it does raise important issues for people to consider when seeking compensation for medical negligence. It's important they consider all factors of the case, including whether or not concerns such as language proficiency could have affected the outcome. 

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