Lawsuits: Most Doctors Say There Was No Trigger Event


November 15, 2017

In This Article

Why Are Some Doctors Sued Multiple Times?

"It's a combination of factors," says Fitzpatrick. "I've defended doctors for 30 years, and I can count on one hand the percentage of doctors who are incompetent. Still, it's a fact that there's more pressure on doctors to see more people in a shorter time. That could be a factor."

Says Griffith, "Many physicians refuse to change their procedures, patient communications, and office practices. I represented a physician who was sued six times for failure to get an informed consent, despite my best efforts to get him to change his patient instructions. When the seventh suit was filed, I notified the insurer that I refused to represent him."

Fitzpatrick adds, "When I see someone who has had eight or nine lawsuits, I'm amazed that they can still get insurance. Hospitals are trying to be more careful about credentialing. Some doctors aren't as good or well trained as others. Some doctors have failed their boards three or four times. Major hospitals require their physicians to be board-certified; if a physician failed three times, he or she would have to wait another 5 years to take it again."

Despite the potential of malpractice lawsuits being great when caring for a high-risk patient, most physicians (84%) said that they have not turned these patients away.

Says Griffith, "There are high-risk procedures that may turn out adversely. But there is also a 'high-risk patient.' That's one who has seen multiple physicians, none of whom met the patient's satisfaction."

"On the initial visit, listen carefully, and if you detect this history, put your ego on hold and realize that no matter what you do, you will never please this patient," says Griffith. "If the slightest problem sets the patient off, you will get sued. Politely inform the patient that you do not believe that you will be able to help him or her, and do not accept them as a patient. Do not renew prescriptions or do any medical treatment. The trouble you do not get into avoids the need for a lawyer to get you out of it."

What Are the Most Effective Ways to Discourage Lawsuits?

Politicians and medical organizations have promoted various ways to reduce the number of malpractice lawsuits. Better communication, having a medical panel screen cases for merit, and placing caps on noneconomic damages were each cited by over one half (53%) of physicians as the most effective ways to discourage malpractice lawsuits. A more aggressive approach was making the plaintiff responsible for all attorney and legal fees should they lose.

For the full report, see Medscape Malpractice Report 2017.


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