Legal hazards for prescribers

Doctors would be less than human if, as well as trying to help their patients, they were not also concerned to protect themselves from allegations of malpractice (negligence) (see Regret avoidance). The legal position regarding a doctor's duty has been pungently put by a lawyer specialising in the field:

The provision of information to patients is treated by (English) law as but one part of the way a

36 Legal correspondent 1980 British Medical lournal 280:575.

doctor discharges the obligation he owes to a patient to take reasonable care in all aspects of his treatment of that patient. The provision of information is a corollary of the patient's right to self-determination which is a right recognised by law. Failure to provide appropriate information will usually be a breach of duty and if that breach leads to the patient suffering injury then the basis for a claim for compensation exists.37

The keeping of appropriate medical records, written at the time of consultation (and which is so frequently neglected) is not only good medical practice, it is the best way of ensuring that there is an answer to unjustified allegations, made later, when memory has faded;38 for example, allegations by patients that they would have declined a treatment that has done harm if the doctor had given a proper warning.

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