Can You Spot a Patient Who is Likely to Sue You?

Unhappy Patient in Bed Every physician should expect to be sued for medical malpractice at least once or twice in his or her career. And, even though approximately 65% of all medical malpractice lawsuits are dropped, dismissed or withdrawn, the process can still prove to be challenging, at best, and nightmarish, at worst. But, is there a way to predict which patients might be more likely to sue? Can doctors who have been sued offer up some useful insights and lessons learned? A recent AMedNews.com article, entitled, “How doctors can spot patients likely to sue,” says unequivocally, “YES.”

The article primarily focuses on warning signs that can be gleaned from patient behavior. Such warning signs include:

Begging for or demanding a treatment. This behavior should be considered a warning sign because it is setting up an adversarial relationship from the get-go.

Asking for a diagnosis outside of a physician’s specialty. Again, the attempt to force a doctor to do something that he or she does not feel comfortable doing (or shouldn’t be doing) is a red-flag.

Complaining of being “mistreated” by another doctor. The article specifically asks physicians to not engage in these kinds of discussions –not because doctors should have a “code of silence,” but instead, because often not all of the facts are presented, nor are they presented accurately.

Specifically mentioning that he or she has sued another physician. While doctors should not assume that every patient who sued a physician in the past will sue them, it is certainly worth noting –especially if accompanied by any of the above behavior(s).

A nice piece at the end of the article talks about how to handle such patients. See the full article for details, but it really isn’t that different from how any doctor should treat a patient: carefully working to build trust, having good documentation, and focusing on good communication, transparency, etc.

Finally, the article also discusses the ethics of ending the doctor-patient relationship should the doctor deem this necessary. To do this thoughtfully, properly and without inflaming the situation would be no small feat and should be taken very seriously.

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