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Keep your cool when a lawsuit is threatened, and document
AHC Newsletters offers useful advice to nurses confronted by an upset patient, threatening to sue. Make sure a hospital occurrence form is filled out, says Michelle Myers Glower, RN, MSN, LNC, a healthcare consultant based in Grand Rapids, MI.

“This form serves as a resource for you later, to refer back to when being deposed,” says Glower. “It is not part of the medical record.”

The nurse should document steps taken to allay the patient’s fears. Medical mishaps should be documented concisely, neither overstating the facts nor concealing them, she says.

Similarly, legal threats and complaints about the quality of care may be briefly documented in the patient’s record in a non-judgmental, neutral manner. “Do not use terms such as ‘vicious,’ ‘nasty,’ or ‘malicious,’ in the medical record,” she told AHC Newsletters. “Never record personal opinions, judgments, or conclusions about what happened.”

Risk-prevention activities or subsequent risk management initiatives should not be in the record, Ms. Glower adds. This may inadvertently disclose information that should have been privileged but, because of disclosure, could be used by the plaintiff in a lawsuit. Also, she says, “do not make accusatory remarks against any provider in front of or near families, other providers, or visitors.” Keep quiet in elevators as well.

Perhaps it is unnecessary to emphasize that hospital risk management should be informed right away. Finally, Ms. Glower told AHC Newsletters, it can be useful to keep the acronym LEAD in mind: (L = Listen; E = Empathize; A = Act; D = Document.)