An MD/Attorney Reveals: 5 Top Reasons Patients Sue Doctors

Lee S. Goldsmith, MD, LLB

Disclosures

October 23, 2018

In This Article

Payment Becomes a Thorny Issue

2. Patients Have Billing Disputes

The second reason involves billing disputes. I am aware that physician compensation is not sufficient and that you want to get the money you deserve, but when a patient's family has suffered an unexpected event, collection efforts may appear to be rubbing salt in the wound. It's wise to control your billers.

A patient was admitted to a hospital and was assigned a physician who did not accept his insurance. Surgery was followed by complications and eventually death. The physician was not required to accept the available insurance and did not do so, and instead billed the family for sums much in excess of the available insurance. The family came to us, we heard their story, obtained the records, and instituted litigation, which ultimately was settled. Often, the families cannot pay the bills, and if they need relief in a billing dispute they will call an attorney.

Perhaps a better way of approaching the billing problem is to have a member of your office staff call the family and discuss the outstanding bill. The staff member can determine whether the family can pay the bill, pay a portion of the bill, pay over time, or work out another arrangement other than sending it to collection. But before sending a bill to collection, make sure you are on solid ground medically and ethically.

3. Patients Feel That Details Are Missing

The third most popular reason for a lawsuit involves a physician's reaction when something unexpected occurs with the patient's outcome.

You communicate but, because you are upset, you do not tell them the truth; you might embellish or change details, or even tell them an outright lie. Make sure you don't do that. The patient may be naive or uneducated, but their cousin may be a physician or the Internet will give them other information, and we will get their call when they are angry.

On more than one occasion, we have had families come to see us with a story about Doctors A, B, and C. Let's say that there was negligence and Doctor C was responsible. The family will agree to sue Doctors A and B but not C because he spoke to them; he was honest with them and showed that he cared. There is no lawsuit.

Don't lie to your patients; there are ways to explain the events without admitting liability. Spend the extra 5 minutes and let the family express their anguish. "We tried our best, the team worked well together, but in this case we were not successful. I am sorry."

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