Medical malpractice lawsuits are fairly common nowadays. Most doctors expect to get sued at least once in their lifetime. But, naturally, it still comes as a shock when it actually happens. Getting sued can be a very grueling process for physicians, and many practitioners are never the same even after their case is settled.
The effects of a lawsuit can be financial, emotional, and physical. In fact, studies have found that surgeons who have been recently involved in a lawsuit are much more likely to suffer from depression, burnout, and feelings of inadequacy. In a survey performed by Medscape, 23% of the doctors reported that getting sued was one of the worst experiences of their life. The main complaint among these physicians was the disruption it caused to their work and the annoyance of having someone question their medical care and their character. Although 63% of these physicians reported that they were able to fully recover from the effects of the lawsuit, roughly 30% found themselves no longer able to trust their patients as they once did and they reported that the incident had changed the manner in which they practiced medicine.
Mistrust in the doctor-patient relationship can easily lead to further complications. It has been long established that being unable to place their trust appropriately can force some physicians to practice defensive medicine in order to protect themselves from legal action. Physicians may choose to order more tests, even those that might seem unnecessary, just to be on the safe side. Alternatively, they may altogether refuse to treat patients who are non-complaint or at high risk. There is also a possibility that the physician may feel burned out, which can cause errors and lead to even more litigation cases in the future.
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Dr. Stephan Lutz, who is a physician from Findlay, Ohio, went through this exact ordeal in the year 2008 when one of his patients sued him for negligence. He spent the next three years battling with feelings of anxiety and helplessness. But having gone through this experience once and not wanting it to repeat itself, he is now much more cautious; he writes down everything and takes on fewer challenging patients. But despite all this, he thinks that going through this experience has taught him a lot and has made him a better doctor overall since he now tends to spend more time communicating with the patient and he is more sensitive to their concerns.
Dr. Lutz’s experience is unlike that of the other doctors who find themselves never able to fully recover or gain anything of value from their experience. Although the effect of the malpractice lawsuit varies from one person to another, one thing is for certain: the emotional effects of going through this experience, either positive or negative, are colossal and can last a lifetime.
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