Monday, June 21, 2010

How to Survive a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

Below is an excerpt from the new book by Dr. Ilene Brenner, MD, an Emergency Room physician and Adjunct Professor, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. She also writes a blog at and tweets @irb123. This is a medical malpractice survival book written by a doctor for doctors in non-legalese language that is easy to understand. It is designed to help navigate through what can be a mysterious and terrifying process.
"That dreaded day arrives. And no it is not just a bad dream. That police officer at your front door is not ringing the doorbell to warn you of a prowler in the neighborhood. He has come to serve you with papers notifying you of a complaint filed by a patient: a patient you may or may not remember seeing. Although anybody who serves you with papers is called a process server, in some jurisdictions, like mine, it is done by a sheriff ’s deputy. The feeling is akin to being hit on the head with a bat, stabbed in the back, and disemboweled, all at the same time. Thoughts run through your mind like, 'Will I lose my job?'; 'Is my money protected?'; 'Am I a bad doctor?'; and 'Is my career over?'

You are justifiably depressed, confused, frustrated, and angry. When you have had a few minutes, hours, or days to assimilate this experience that unfortunately has begun a new chapter in your life, you undoubtedly ask, 'Now what?'

When it happened to me, I called my father. Then again, not everyone has a medical malpractice defense trial attorney for a father. Most physicians do ot have an attorney who is readily available to give appropriate and timely advice to initiate damage control. Through this book I am going to suggest what to do and, equally important, what not to do...

Getting sued can damage your self-confidence. However, do not let fear consume you. Make every effort to continue practicing the good medicine you have been doing for years. It is possible that the lawsuit is a result of your unintentional negligence. If that is the case, realize you are human. We all make mistakes."

Using her personal experience and expertise, she offers a glimpse into the medical malpractice process and acts as a guide to help a physician effectively deal with the situation. She leads through the process from the moment they receive a summons, through the trial, and into the appeal process. There is some excellent advice on how to best choose an attorney. She also points out that while good documentation won't necessarily keep you from being sued, it is the cornerstone of a good defense. And there is some very good advice about when to keep your mouth shut:
"There is a common misconception amongst physicians that if they explain things well, their intelligent responses will prove to the plaintiff’s attorney that the whole thing is a mistake. They may also think that they need to explain their defense clearly and completely to the plaintiff’s attorney. However, as will be detailed later on in the chapter, a general rule is, “the less you say the better.” Since there is the potential to do significant damage to your case, it is critically important that you perform well; otherwise you may be forced to settle an otherwise winnable case."
There is an excellent review in Emergency Physicians Monthly by Louise B. Andrew, MD, JD. She points out the need to be careful about differing statutes between states, but overall gives a very positive review. Dr. Andrew basically breaks the book into tow sections. The first is a walk through the process of litigation, the second is a practical discussion n preventative measures and reducing risk.

Kevin Klauer, Editor-in-Chief for Emergency Physicians Monthly, interviewed Ilene Brenner and discussed what to do and what not to do when you find yourself in a malpractice suit.

Ilene has done an excellent job of writing a readable and understandable treatise, which includes great advice on how to respond to a lawsuit, and also how to avoid one in the first place. We live in a very litigious culture and this resource is a must have for any clinicians book shelf.

No comments:

Post a Comment