June 9, 2023
Optometrists may be involved in less medical malpractice cases compared to other health care professions, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still occur. From 2000 to 2020, optometrists faced 2,798 malpractice cases, with 30% of those resulting in monetary payments1. There are five reasons for optometrists to be named in medical malpractice cases: failure to diagnose, delay in diagnosis, wrong diagnosis, improper management and failure to refer.
Failure to diagnose
For optometrists, failure to diagnose a patient accounted for nearly 45% of malpractice claims2. Retinal detachment, glaucoma and tumors are the three most commonly overlooked diagnoses by optometrists.
Delay in diagnosis
A delay in diagnosis of a patient can increase the chances of a disease or illness worsening. According to the National Practitioner Data Bank, there were 52 cases from 1990 to 2020 with a delay in diagnosis allegation. Those cases received total payments of over $10 million3.
Giving your patient the wrong diagnosis can lead to incorrect treatment that either fails to control the disease progression or intensifies the problem. While it’s important to be timely in diagnosing, it’s also important to make the correct judgment.
Although you may have the diagnosis correct and did so in a timely manner, performing or ordering the wrong tests can lead to patient harm.
Failure to refer
This occurs when optometrists fail to send a patient to a specialist for further treatment, which can result in a critical delay of appropriate care. This can cause more harm, including loss of vision or other damages to the eyes.
Reduce your risks
While it is tough to completely protect yourself or your practice from risk, there are ways to help lower your chance of being named in a claim. Document all treatment and conversations you have with patients, including the discussion of treatment strategies and referrals offered or made. Open communication is another good effort in reducing risk. Have patients sign forms for informed consent or refusal. Having these documents will showcase that you explained the patient’s conditions and treatment options and whether they accepted or declined further treatment.
Use current diagnostic technologies, regularly attend professional conferences, be aware of state laws and Practice Act requirements. When patients leave your care, offer them their records or obtain permission to send the documents to their new doctor. And lastly, consult your professional liability insurance provider if you receive notice of a malpractice claim filed against you.Back to Main page
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