Malpractice weighs on the minds of doctors even though the majority of malpractice cases do not lead to a judgment or settlement in favor of the patient. In most cases the patient either drops the case or it is dismissed by the court.
In any given year there are about seven percent of doctors that face medical malpractice claims and only two percent made any payment that related to the claim. One survey of more than 7,000 surgeons found that twenty-five percent were in litigation at the time of the survey. Other studies estimate that seventy-five to ninety-nine percent of doctors who practice will be involved in or threatened with a medical malpractice lawsuit over the course of their lifetime.
The concern doctors feel that they will face a medical malpractice suit is high even when they practice in states that limit such suits. Physicians report concerns over malpractice suits and feel intense pressure to practice defensive medicine due to the high career risks associated with a suit. Any claim, not just the ones that result in an award or a settlement, may shape the perceptions of malpractice risks. Doctors in the mist of litigation or involved in a recent lawsuit are more likely to feel burnt-out or suffer from depression. They often feel emotionally exhausted and detached.
The threat of medical malpractice suits can impact a doctor’s ability to practice medicine. It is a major stressor for many doctors. They can end up second guessing themselves, avoid giving opinions on diagnosis or treatment plans, or filling every report they write with words like “maybe” or “perhaps”, in order to protect themselves from lawsuits.
How a doctor practices medicine can also be impacted. They may choose to practice defensive medicine, such as ordering unnecessary tests and medications or may even refuse to treat some patients with complex illnesses as a safeguard against possible litigation. It may improve patient care to increase the level of communication between patients and doctors, making patients aware of the risks that may occur despite the doctor’s best efforts.
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