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David Mittleman
David Mittleman
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Why Some Doctors Get Sued, Why Patients Sue

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Medscape Medical News conducted a survey of four thousand physicians of various specialties to determine trends in medical malpractice lawsuits. The survey was completed in a 10-15 minute anonymous survey by U.S. physicians during the fall of 2015.  Medscape published the 2015 report on December 9, 2015.

In 2015, fifty-nine percent of those surveyed had been named in at least one malpractice lawsuit throughout their careers. The most commonly sued specialty was Obstetrics/Gynecology due to mistakes occurring during gestation, labor and delivery of babies.  Least often sued are oncologists, or cancer specialists. Falling in between were surgeons, orthopedic specialists, radiologists, anesthesiologists, and family practitioners.

Physicians surveyed were also asked about the nature of the lawsuits. Most commonly alleged claims are “failure to diagnose” and “patient suffered an abnormal injury,” followed by failure to treat, poor documentation of patient instruction and education, errors in medication administration, failure to follow safety procedures, and improperly obtaining/lack of informed consent. The survey also showed that male physicians were sued more frequently than female physicians.

One question on the survey asked 4,000 physicians: “When I learn that a Case Involved Real Errors, I think…”  The most commonly chosen answers were: “Doctors are human and sometimes make bad mistakes,” followed by “This occurs rarely and should not be used to give all doctors a bad name” and “Some doctors are negligent and incompetent, and it’s fine to sue them.”  Only eight percent of physicians chose this answer: “This patient or their family is probably just trying to make money by suing a doctor.”

study from St. Mary’s Hospital in London investigated these trends from patient side.  The following four themes emerged as the reasons patients sue:

  •  both patients and their relatives wanted to prevent similar incidents in the future;
  • the need to understand how the injury happened and why;
  • compensation for actual losses, pain and suffering, or to provide care in the future for an injured person;
  • accountability – a belief that the staff or organisation should have to account for their actions.

Consider this story by a Maine resident whose Strep infection went undiagnosed for  six years because the results of his strep test were never sent to his doctor. The man suffered from a mystery illness until the mistake was discovered. This patient told his local newspaper that although his lawsuit is seeking damages, it is “not about the money….We filed the lawsuit because of what was done to me, what was done to my family and to stop it from happening to someone else,” he testified.