Doctors Are Way Too Sensitive About Getting Sued… How Do They Think the Plaintiff Feels?

A “terrible, life-changing experience” – that’s what some U.S. physicians sued for medical malpractice think of it anyway.

A recent survey of about 1,400 physicians in the United States delved in to why these physicians were sued, what they thought of the trial outcome, what they learned and how it changed the way they practised medicine.

The survey did not ask the injured patients who became plaintiffs in lawsuits whether this had been a life-changing experience for them, or anything else about what they thought about their lawsuits.

The good news for physicians is most of them never get sued, even in the litigation-prone United States. Sixty percent in this sample reported that they had never been named in a lawsuit. Internal medicine was the most sued specialty, followed by family medicine. Only 9% of obstetricians had been sued. Thirty-five percent of the lawsuits alleged a failure to diagnose, and 17% a failure to treat.

As to the experience of being sued, 23% of these doctors agreed that it was “horrible; one of the worst experiences of my life.”  A further 16% thought it was “very bad; disruptive and humiliating.”  That’s a total of 39% of doctors finding the experience horrible to very bad. The rest thought it was upsetting to unpleasant (and a few even learned something), but they were able to function.

Thirty-one percent of cases appear to have resulted in a payment to the plaintiff, which is about what we find in Canada, including Newfoundland and Labrador.

Sixty-three percent of physicians reported no long-term emotional or financial effects on them of the lawsuit, but 29% reported they no longer trust patients and treat them differently. Six percent left the practice setting (maybe a good thing!)

I can’t help feeling that doctors are way too sensitive about getting sued. Medical malpractice lawsuits are taken because a patient has suffered a serious life-long injury affecting her quality of life on a permanent basis, or a wrongful death has occurred. If there a robust case to be made that injury was caused because the physician was negligent, then most patients have no choice but to pursue a remedy to repair their lives.

Generally speaking, a lawsuit against a doctor is too time consuming and expensive to pursue in any but the most serious cases. And the lawsuit is the methodology and means our society supplies to the injured person to prove what has to be proved for just compensation to be achieved.

So get over it, guys. If getting sued is the worst experience in a physician’s life, what do you think it feels like for the injured patient?