The fantastic website "Take Justice Back" alerted me to a 2011 New York Times article written by Dr. Pauline Chen. Dr. Chen discusses a personal experience in her past where she received a phone call alerting her to a malpractice lawsuit filed against her. Chen describes the stress she found herself experiencing as a result of the patient and his/her lawyer "combing" through medical records and basing the claim on a "single sentence" in her medical note.
Chen's article discusses the stress medical lawsuits have caused – that doctors who have been sued find themselves depressed, emotionally detached, and experience burn out. What about the injured? What about their families? What about what they have experienced – additional, unnecessary surgeries, pain and suffering, loss of the ability to live a normal life, embarrassment from a deformity, depression? The stress of perhaps getting sued pales in comparison. If a physician is constantly worried about being sued, perhaps something else is going on.
I'd like to remind Dr. Chen of something she likely already knows – most attorneys do not file a medical malpractice lawsuit based upon a "single sentence" in the medical record. It is usually a combination of things contained in the medical record, in the testimony, that make it clear the patient was not provided the care he/she deserves. Dr. Chen, and others who support tort reform regarding medical malpractice, should closely review this website regarding the Five Myths of Medical Malpractice. We don't need tort reform – we need a reduction in medical errors, we need patient/doctor communication.
As an attorney, I am exposed to attorney malpractice lawsuits. Do I believe these claims should therefore be restricted so that I don't suffer – so that I don't worry? No. Not all doctors are sued. But we have to have a system where doctors are accountable for their carelessness. Sometimes things happen that cannot be prevented and those risks should be explained to the patient. But if something happens directly due to the doctor's carelessness, the doctor should be held liable.