Lawsuit: 'The Worst Experience Ever' and 'A Total Surprise'

Mark Crane

Disclosures

July 24, 2013

In This Article

Any Doctor Can Be Sued

The specter of being sued for medical malpractice is never far from the minds of physicians. Even when doctors do everything right, any patient can suffer a serious complication or poor outcome that might lead to a lawsuit.

Being sued is an upsetting event at best and a terrible, life-changing experience at worst. In an exclusive survey with almost 3500 respondents, close to 1400 physicians who were sued for malpractice told us why they were sued, what they might have done differently, how it affected their lives, and how it changed the way they practice medicine.

About 40% of survey respondents were named in a lawsuit. Thirty-one percent of responding physicians were one of many parties named; another 9% were the only physician named.

One key finding in Medscape's Malpractice Report was that almost three quarters (74%) of the physicians sued were taken by surprise. In fact, 59% said there was no "trigger incident" that would have made them expect a lawsuit.

The survey results also explode the myth that a small number of "bad apple" doctors are the prime cause of malpractice suits. No payment was made in 57% of cases brought against our respondents, as the majority were dismissed or withdrawn before trial.

Some other key findings from the Medscape study:

Despite the popularity and reported effectiveness of disclosure and apology programs in hospitals, 93% of doctors sued said they believe that saying "I'm sorry" would not have prevented their lawsuit.

23% of doctors said the experience of being sued was "horrible, one of the worst experiences of their life." Another 16% said the experience was "disruptive and humiliating." Only 3% said it was a "neutral" experience.

39% of doctors said the litigation process took more than 3 years before it was resolved.

29% of sued doctors said, "I no longer trust patients. I treat them differently." And despite the nationwide pressure to reduce healthcare costs, many doctors said they now practice defensive medicine rather than face the risk for another lawsuit. "If it hurts between the nose and the toes, consider it a heart attack and stress-test everyone from 9 to 90!" said one respondent.

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