Poor Patients Sue for Med Mal Less Often

stethoscopeI recently read about a study on ScienceDaily.com that reviewed a study published in Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research. The study aimed at investigating a long-held belief by many physicians that poor patients are more likely to sue their physicians for med mal. The study looked at med mal data, including med mal claims and differences in rates of litigation, among socioeconomically disadvantaged patients and compared it with other patient groups.

The authors found that, in fact, poor patients are less likely to sue their physicians for med mal. To explain the findings, the authors reasoned that poor patients have less access to legal resources, and less access to an advance on funds sometimes needed to litigate cases.

The authors then detailed what they described as an “unconscious bias” held by many physicians. They described many physicians as having a resistance to treating poor patients, due to conscious or unconscious concerns about financial reimbursement, and/or they treat them differently.

As a first step to overcoming this unconscious bias, the authors believe more cultural competency training and education could help so that doctors could provide more culturally competent care. And, as we have said here many times before, it is often impossible to predict where a med mal case will come from. Furthermore, as we wrote about in a recent post, the best way to protect one’s self against a med mal lawsuit is to simply provide excellent care, document everything, and have good med mal coverage –not to size-up patients. And, although it is an unfortunate reality of today’s medicine, worrying about med mal and having to use one’s med mal insurance is not a very enjoyable way to practice medicine. Choosing to instead focus on excellent care and patient satisfaction can provide more satisfaction for physicians as well.

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