How to Not Get Sued as a Doctor
It’s very different from what you think
Here’s an interesting question: How can you know whether a doctor is likely to be sued by his patients? You can either look examine the doctor’s training and credentials in order to analyze his credibility and expertise in his field. This shows you how good he is in his job. Or, the other option is to listen to the conversation the doctor has with his patients. Which option is more likely to tell you whether the doctor is likely to be sued?
Of course, the first option seems more likely to tell you how good the doctor is in his job. If the doctor makes fewer mistakes and diagnose the disease correctly so that it could be treated, it seems reasonable that there will be fewer patients who’s willing to sue the doctor for malpractice or wrong diagnosis. Logically, the doctors with less experience and reputation will make more avoidable mistakes, which in return increases the chances of them getting sued.
However, it turns out that the second option was a better indicator to predict the probability of lawsuits. So how can simply listening to the conversation between the doctor and the patients allow you to guess if this doctor will be sued?
Believe it or not, the risk of being sued for malpractice has very little to do with how many mistakes a doctor makes. Analyses of malpractice lawsuits show that there are highly skilled doctors who get sued a lot and doctors who make lots of mistakes and never get sued. At the same time, the overwhelming number of people who suffer an injury due to the negligence of a doctor never file a malpractice suit at all. In other words, patients don’t file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care. There’s something else to it.
And whether or not a patient who’s been illy affected by malpractice will sue came down to this: how they’ve been treated, on a personal level, by their doctors. What happened again and again in lawsuits is that the patients say they’ve been rushed and ignored or treated poorly. People often don’t sue doctors they like.
When a doctor listened and explained the diseases, surgeries, or medication carefully to his or her patients, even when things went wrong, the patients didn’t sue the doctors. On the other hand, when the doctor never took the time to listen and communicate with the patients on a personal level, the patients simply didn’t like them. Plus, when things went wrong, they had an easier time suing their doctors.
Wendy Levinson, a medical researcher, recorded hundreds of conversations between a group of physicians and their patients. Half of them were sued while the other half have never been sued. Levinson found a clear difference between the two groups — the doctors who have never been sued spent on average three or more minutes longer than the other doctors who have been sued. Those doctors who took the time to communicate well with the patients engaged in active listening and allowed the patients to get a sense of what the visit was supposed to accomplish and when they should ask questions.
There were no difference in the amount or quality of the information the two groups of doctors gave to their patients. The real difference was how they talked and treated their patients.
As a doctor, his or her job didn’t just involve treating symptoms or diseases. It was also about treating the patients more personally and intimately. Effective communication is important even for doctors. And in this case, simply communicating more effectively and emotionally prevented them from getting sued.