Malpractice lawsuits against physicians and other health care providers are no longer solely based on error in medical treatments. They’ve become more about how a patient feels they were treated—or mistreated—by the caregiver or health care facility. While this may seem irrational, it’s reality, and it’s also why health care professionals need to consider these 7 steps for avoiding a malpractice lawsuit when performing their jobs.

1. Establish Good Patient-Caregiver Relationships

Your patients expect to receive quality medical care from you—it’s what brought them through your doors. They also expect to be treated with true concern, kindness and respect.

As the caregiver, it’s your job to help your patients feel comfortable—something many of us aren’t when it comes to discussing our bodies and our health in general. Respect and empathy go a long way in helping patients be forthcoming about their overall health, specific ailments and how they feel about treatments that may be necessary.

Open and honest communication, rooted in kindness and respect, is vital to fostering positive patient-caregiver relationships. It also helps you get to know your patients better, and helps their family members gain a good understanding of care and procedures. It all adds up to earning the trust of your patients. And when you have a patient’s trust, they are less likely to bring a lawsuit against you if something goes wrong.

2. Be Clear & Consistent

In addition to being compassionate, it’s important to communicate clearly and on the patient’s level. Most of your patients won’t understand the technical medical terminology you use when conversing with colleagues. They’ll more easily understand common terms explained in simple ways. Illustrations can be useful tools to help a patient visualize their diagnosis or show how a medication or treatment will improve a condition.

Being consistent in your care is equally important. The same level of care and protocol should be administered to each patient you see.

3. Getting Informed Consent

Before you engage in dialogue about a patient’s health and the care you’ll be giving, it’s crucial to get your patients’ informed consent. Informed consent means you discussed the advantages and the risks of the care you will provide and gives the patient the opportunity to discuss alternatives. Most health care facilities obtain the informed consent of their patients by way of a signed agreement that is completed with enrollment paperwork. It’s a simple task, and an important one that can defend you in a malpractice case.

4. Accurate and Complete Documentation

Making and keeping accurate records and documentation of patient visits is vital to a successful practice. In fact, documentation can make or break a malpractice lawsuit. In a case of negligence where no documentation is presented to back up the provider, a jury is very likely to side with a patient. Poorly-kept documentation fares no better. Good documentation—charts and records that are current, thorough and specific to the exact care given at every visit—can be very helpful in supporting a health care worker during a malpractice case.

5. Stay Current

To stay “in business” you’re required to maintain your license through continued education, training and testing. But there’s a whole world of medicine outside of your specialty, much of which is readily accessible to the public. Make sure to stay informed about the health care industry as a whole. You’ll be positioned to answer questions your patients may ask of you, building their confidence in you. Plus, you’ll be a well-versed representative in your medical community, something a jury will look upon with favor.

6. Be Prepared

Doctors and health care professionals are often seen as distant and rushed. However true that may be of your practice, you should never compromise the time you give to preparing for appointments. Do your very best to review your patients’ files before walking in the door for an appointment. It’s not only important to ensure you’re up-to-speed about a patient’s condition and care, but it’s also a simple matter of courteousness. Again, showing that level of consideration really is meaningful to your patients. When a patient feels like “just another patient,” he may be more likely to sue in a case of perceived negligence.

7. Follow Proper Procedures

We’ve mentioned how important it is to build positive patient-caregiver relationships. As important as those relationships are, they alone don’t trump the importance of following proper procedure and practice in your care. Policies are set for a reason, and they must be followed to ensure the best possible care is provided. This must be the case each and every time you see each and every patient. And again, consistency in your procedures is of utmost importance. The smallest infraction against a set policy or procedure can cause devastating effects—in the treatment outcome for the patient, and possibly, a subsequent malpractice lawsuit.

It’s important that as policies and procedures or treatments are amended or added to your practice, the official documentation used within your facility is also updated.

Avoiding a malpractice lawsuit should be of utmost importance to you.