Since the first articles informing the public about the impact of litigation on physicians appeared over 30 years ago, very little has changed. So there are no real surprises in the recent Medscape feature, "Five Doctors Tell 'How I Survived After Being Sued", on five doctors who were sued, all of whom were vindicated by a jury trial. There are, however, many helpful hints not only for the as yet uninitiated but also for those in the midst of this life changing experience.
An accusation of malpractice remains to this day an assault on the individual person’s sense of integrity. A lawsuit, despite the admonition that it is “just the cost of doing business”, challenges the very essence of the man or woman who has spent many years in training --to be either a physician or a dentist—and who has dedicated their life to being a competent and caring professional.
Unique Experiences, but Share Same Response
Each of these doctors had a unique experience. They also shared much in common. First and foremost, they felt that they had been caring of the patient, done their very best for them, and, in some way, felt unjustly accused. As a result, they felt angry and betrayed by the patient. Some felt insulted by the insinuation – and sometimes during the trial by the overt accusation – of being a “bad” and incompetent physician. They emphasized the importance of cooperating with the attorney, doing their homework by preparing for depositions and trial, and being free from work responsibilities especially during the trial.
Advice is based on their own experiences. Most striking is their universal call for support. Although cautioned by legal counsel not to “talk” to anyone about the untoward event, there was unanimous agreement that being able to share their feelings with someone who understood and supported them was essential to traversing these difficult years. As one physician noted, talking about what went right and wrong about medical events, is a common need and source of learning within the medical culture. Such a deprivation further underscores the need for an understanding and reliable confidant.
This article of itself offers a source of support and encouragement to physicians and dentists who experience an adverse event that is followed by a litigation experience. These doctors not only share how they lived through it but their longer term professional and personal responses to the event.