Which Patients Sue?

Here is a really interesting article in the American Medical News about spotting which patients are likely to sue.   Below are some highlights I thought were interesting:

  •  “Then there’s going to be a subset of individuals who are more likely to sue than others. There are individuals who walk in and are ready to be unhappy. That’s a reality, but that’s part of the human condition.”
  • People who have higher social statuses, live in urban areas and have higher education also are more likely to file claims.
  • Another contributing factor is whether the patient personally knows a doctor or attorney.
  • “Now more than ever before, patients are well-informed, and [there] is more shared decision-making” among doctors and patients, he said. “But the patient who is very demanding about what they want and expect you to give them, ‘or else,’ puts you on guard.”
  • Other legally risky behaviors include patients who ask for a diagnosis beyond a physician’s expertise, who complain about being “mistreated” by other doctors or who have sued past physicians.

How many of you doctors out there can think of a dozen or more patients, in your head, that match those criteria above?   That’s my gift to you.  Sleep well tonight.

Douglas Farrago MD

Douglas Farrago MD is a full-time practicing family doc in Forest, Va. He started Forest Direct Primary Care where he takes no insurance and bills patients a monthly fee. He is board certified in the specialty of Family Practice. He is the inventor of a product called the Knee Saver which is currently in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Knee Saver and its knock-offs are worn by many major league baseball catchers. He is also the inventor of the CryoHelmet used by athletes for head injuries as well as migraine sufferers. Dr. Farrago is the author of four books, two of which are the top two most popular DPC books. From 2001 – 2011, Dr. Farrago was the editor and creator of the Placebo Journal which ran for 10 full years. Described as the Mad Magazine for doctors, he and the Placebo Journal were featured in the Washington Post, US News and World Report, the AP, and the NY Times. Dr. Farrago is also the editor of the blog Authentic Medicine which was born out of concern about where the direction of healthcare is heading and the belief that the wrong people are in charge. This blog has been going daily for more than 15 years Article about Dr. Farrago in Doximity Email Dr. Farrago – [email protected] 

  3 comments for “Which Patients Sue?

  1. February 6, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    I would bet that 90% of patients who walk in with an attitude have already allowed themselves to be mistreated a number of times, and those who sue have just quit waiting for that camel’s back to break. I was given unnecessary drugs for almost 40 years which made me worse and eventually caused kidney near-failure. Then they told me they would never recover from that level of damage. I’ve proven them half-wrong about that. But if you come down from On High with your Prescription for Disaster, expect more than a few patients to be angry. I still trust my doctors, after I’ve worked with them for a few years, and either do as they say or have a conversation with them why I do not wish to do that. I do my best to remember they are human too, and displaying my intelligence and awareness may help us come to a mutual decision for better treatment than just listening and saying yes would.

  2. Pat
    February 5, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    In truth I’ve been guilty of malpractice in instances where I was never sued; conversely, I have been sued and settled against absent clear evidence of malpractice. In a potential malpractice case, the greatest determinant of quality of medical care is outcome: if there is a bad outcome, someone MUST have done something wrong. Add to this the psychology of unrequited guilt in a surviving family member and the amorality of the legal industry, and I regard all patients as potential adversaries. It is a sad, and extremely unpleasant way to go to work, but the only way I know to protect myself.

  3. Kathy Wire
    February 4, 2013 at 8:48 am

    I just read the article and it makes some good points. Dr. Hickson has done great research which points to the fact that the primary statistical determinant of who will get sued is the behavior of the physicians. The suggestions at the end of the article (how to deal with a patient you think might sue) are excellent. But I would add that they should be touchstones for how physicians treat any patient. People sue providers (physicians and hospitals) that have left them feeling like they can’t trust the provider and have no other way to go. In cases with a legitimate injury and messy causation, early efforts to address the situation openly can do wonders. I would also second the brief mention in the article about physicians throwing each other under the bus. It happens all the time and it’s really hard to convince someone that there is no liability exposure in their case when their [neighbor/subsequent treater/PCP] implied there is a problem.

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