If you’ve recently discovered that your doctor was sued for malpractice, your first reaction may be panic. After all, this is the person you entrust with your life. But should you be worried?
Experts say the answer isn’t always yes. Jumping ship and seeking healthcare elsewhere may not be necessary, but knowing when to worry and where to get more information certainly is.
The Connection between Malpractice Lawsuits and the Quality of Medical Care
A malpractice lawsuit does not always indicate negligence or substandard care by a physician. Many malpractice cases settle out of court before going to trial and there is never any admission of guilt by the physician, states Standford University Professor of Law, Michelle M. Mello, J.D., Ph.D., who specializes in health research and policy and has written extensively about medical malpractice in the United States health system.
Sometimes it is the hospital’s fault, but the physician becomes embroiled in the lawsuit. Other times, an insurer settles and agrees to a malpractice payout because it is cheaper than the exorbitant cost of litigation.
Doctors who take care of very sick patients are statistically more likely to have poor outcomes and are thus more prone to be sued. An excellent physician could have a jury wrongly rule against them. Medicine is not an exact science, and it is unrealistic to think that a doctor, who is a human being, after all, can never ever make an error in judgment.
Worrisome Signs That Should Raise a Red Flag:
Statistics show that more than 60 percent of physicians over the age of 55 have been sued at least once in their career, but a pattern of repeated lawsuits is something that
should raise a red flag. If your physician has had three, four, five, or more malpractice payouts, you have to start wondering what’s going on. As these reports from CBS News and Consumer Reports prove, doctors can often keep practicing medicine despite multiple malpractice lawsuits. The state medical board does not always take away the license of repeat offenders. There are literally thousands of doctors practicing medicine in the United States despite a record of deadly mistakes, sexual misconduct, drug abuse, and other run-ins with the law.
Discovering a Pattern of Negligence:
- Ask friends, relatives, and coworkers who live in your area. The grapevine is often a good source of information, and a repeat history of malpractice will get people murmuring. Someone in your circle may have heard or read something about your doctor.
- Search online. A simple Google query with your doctor’s name and “medical malpractice” may throw up some surprising results.
- Do your research. The Federation of State Medical Boards has a website org where you can find out whether your physician is licensed, where they went to medical school, how many years of experience they have and their history of disciplinary actions by licensing boards.
- Dig a little deeper. State medical board websites may have information about lawsuits and disciplinary actions. Consumer Reports and Informed Patient Institute are other resources to get a report card on your physician.
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