Six warning signs that reveal a patient is likely to sue their physician

by | Jan 30, 2024

Introduction

In the challenging world of medicine, healthcare professionals often encounter patients who present unique challenges, including those who have a history of filing lawsuits against physicians. A case in point involves a patient who, unbeknown to the treating physician, had a history of legal actions against several doctors. This patient expressed concerns about having multiple undiagnosed chronic disorders and dissatisfaction with previous medical care, even mentioning some highly reputable physicians in the process.

A physician reveals her experience

In a recent article published in MdLinx Dr. Kristen Fuller, a seasoned medical professional, recounted an experience where she felt like she was being scrutinized during an appointment, akin to a job interview. This heightened vigilance and thoroughness in her approach were crucial in ensuring no grounds for a malpractice claim were given, a sentiment echoed by many in the medical field.

A study from the American Medical Association (AMA) in 2023 highlighted that about 31.2% of physicians face malpractice lawsuits at some point in their careers. These lawsuits, although often not reaching court, can still lead to significant legal costs averaging around $30,000, alongside emotional and mental strains on the physician and their family. The AMA emphasizes that facing a lawsuit is not necessarily a reflection of medical errors or incompetence.

Dr. Fuller’s experience of being named in a lawsuit, despite its eventual dismissal, is a testament to the profound impact that legal actions can have on medical practitioners. It often leads to a shift in their approach, towards defensive medicine, a practice adopted by many medical professionals who have faced or witnessed malpractice lawsuits.

The signs of a potentially litigious patient

Identifying potentially litigious patients is a key aspect of mitigating risk. These patients may display various signs, including:

  1. Extensive Medical History: Patients with a long list of medical conditions, especially those with many specialists and extensive medical records, might be searching for someone to hold accountable for their health issues.
  2. Non-Compliance and Unwillingness to Listen: Patients who repeatedly ignore medical advice or show an inability to engage reasonably with healthcare processes could pose a higher risk of legal action.
  3. Negative Remarks about Other Physicians: Patients who express dissatisfaction with previous healthcare providers are often considered red flags, requiring careful handling and documentation by the treating physician.
  4. Consistent Dissatisfaction: A pattern of complaints about various aspects of care, from administrative issues to the medical treatment itself, can be indicative of a challenging patient-physician relationship.
  5. History of ‘Doctor Shopping’ and Previous Legal Actions: Patients who have frequently changed doctors or have a history of involvement in litigation cases should be approached with caution.
  6. Challenging the Physician’s Expertise: Patients who come prepared with extensive internet research and challenge the physician’s recommendations need to be managed with tact and provided with credible information sources.

In the face of these challenges, healthcare professionals are encouraged to practice with caution, patience, and compassion. Recognizing these signs is not about labeling patients but about being prepared and maintaining meticulous documentation. This approach not only helps in providing quality care but also safeguards the practitioner’s career and well-being in the long run. Comprehensive malpractice insurance for physicians is also essential.

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Hospital Insurance typically covers all or part of the potential liability for hospital services. It includes medical malpractice, accidents involving hospital employees and equipment, care during surgery or any other invasive treatment, after-hours care arrangements by staff who need help with their children and more.

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