When we think of medical malpractice, we usually think of the obvious situation when a thoughtless physician amputates the wrong leg of his patient. In less obvious situations, medical malpractice may also occur when a physician harms his patient by providing a service or information that is below the standard of care. But what if a hospital physician referred the thoughtless physician to that patient? Can the hospital also be held liable for malpractice? You may be surprised to find that the answer to those questions may be yes.
Under the theory of “negligent referral,” the hospital may be held liable if its physician refers a patient to another physician that it knew or should have known was incompetent or has a strong possibility of committing medical malpractice. How would the hospital know that? Well, perhaps the hospital’s physician knew that the doctor to whom he referred the patient was often intoxicated at work or perhaps patients complained about that doctor’s competence. Surprisingly, even Yelp reviews may be enough to put a hospital on notice that a physician is more likely than not to commit malpractice as a result of negative patient reviews. Also, simply referring the patient to the wrong type of specialist such as sending the patient to a chiropractor when the patient needed an orthopedist could create liability on the part of the hospital.
So what can hospitals do to protect themselves? Educate your physicians so that they are aware that they should make thoughtful referrals and be diligent in ensuring that the physician they are referring was not previously disciplined. Physicians should also ensure that they are referring their patients to the right type of specialist. It may even be important that the referring physician follows up with the patient, to make sure appropriate care was rendered.
A referral should never be casually made. It may seem that Facebook or Yelp reviews, which are often subjective, are not reliable sources to determine the competence of a physician. However, keep in mind that social media in today’s world is increasing in relevance and it is a good idea to read the reviews if you don’t really know the physician to whom you refer patients. Referrals should not be made because of a monetary benefit or personal relationship only. A referral should benefit your patient – not yourself!.