Patients Aren’t the Only Angry Ones by Pat Conrad MD

Medical-Malpractice_05

Over the past decade I’ve managed to get the occasional piece of hate mail for giving a public opinion on topics. Some of you won’t like this one, but rest assured, I mean every word. I enjoy Medical Economics magazine to whom I sent this letter. Just in case it doesn’t get published, I thought to share it with the home crowd. And yeah, I redacted the name and location on this randomly chosen photo so as not to give any undue publicity to an enemy.

To the Editor:

The cover article from your 4/25 issue, “Your Best Malpractice Defenses” was well-intended to help physicians minimize their liability potential, yet every recommendation is predicated on what the defendant is doing wrong. The entire approach still amounts to devoting more of an ever-dwindling day to negative purposes (It was particularly sad that the article needed to quote an attorney on the importance of reading body language for non-verbal cues).

The article noted that patients sue out of anger. While this is very true, other important contributors are greed, stupidity, and vengeance. The article quoted a past-president of the AAFP advising against viewing each patient as a potential lawsuit. Quoting an AAFP official says less about the actual malpractice environment than it does about the misguiding psyche of that organization.

The simple, unbalanced equation is that any patient, or vengeful surviving family member can take a shot at a physician at any time with no consequence, and often enough get a nice cash prize for a settlement. Every patient IS a potential lawsuit. Moonbeams pretending that the issue rests on good care and communication are both naive and irresponsible.

Later in the 4/25 issue there is an article on “The ethics of researching patients on the web.” The author – another attorney – notes that while it is widely accepted for a patient to Google a physician, the reverse is “more controversial.” That article worries that while legal, researching a patient might erode that patient’s trust in the physician, and concludes that such searches would be “inadvisable.” Again the doctor-patient relationship is presumed to be a one-way street, where only the patient has the presumption of good will.

Today the article would be more precisely titled “The Doctor is Always Wrong.” Doctors are targets, and should behave as such until they are able to retire.