Thursday, January 29, 2009


I was invited to be an expert witness in a malpractice suit last week.
I received a short snippet of the case. And though the law firm was willing to pay me for my time, I politely declined.
It's a tough situation. I reviewed the case; the physician involved did make a mistake of not properly notifying the patient, however sad to say, I could see myself in that situation someday. Why is it, that while on one hand we yell and scream that doctors aren't Gods and are only human and should not be allowed certain powers, and yet on the other hand expect doctors to never make mistakes? If it was a blatantly negligent mistake that resulted in harm to the patient, that's one thing, but what about an honest, really human mistake that had little consequence?
In this case, the doctor was being sued for a side effect of a medication. The patient had presented in moderately dire straits. It was a judgment call, between using a medication of proven benefit to aid this patient, versus a known possible rare side effect. Unfortunately, in this case the odds won. The rare side effect wasn't so rare for this patient.
Would I have done differently? I don't know. I would at least ensure I talked about the possible risks with the patient and documented it (I'm not sure this doctor did).
I read that 50-65% of US physicians get sued at least once during their career. Those numbers were from 2001; I'm certain with the increasingly litiginous modern society it's even higher now (did anyone read about poor Asian laundromat owners being sued for millions of dollars for misplacing some slacks??). That's more than half of all doctors. How many of those lawsuits were rightful, and how many frivolous, I don't know.
All I do know is you see those ads on TV everyday, asking for patients who've ever had disease A and taken medication B, to join their class action lawsuit. And I've had a couple of patients ask me to 'modify' their medical records to aid in their lawsuits against others.
Apparently over $4 billion dollars were paid by medical insurers in 1999 in the USA alone. I'm sure that's alt least partially to blame for the crazy state of healthcare economics these days.
And so, while I'd love to get some extra cash for new HP desktop I just bought to replace my aging 7-year old 128 mb RAM computer, and while this case may (or may not) have its merits, I'm going to just wash my hands of this and let someone else stand in, if they want.
For someday, chances are, I'll be on the other side of the fence, be it for a real screw up, or financial motives of a malaligned patient. And if that day ever comes, all I hope for is to be able to face up to God, and my family and no one else, and say "I did what I believed was for the best of my patient."


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