Physician Entrepreneur Celebrates Five Years Of Protecting Good Doctors Against Bad Lawyers
This April, entrepreneur, neurosurgeon Jeffery Segal, MD, FACS, and founder of Medical Justice Services, celebrates five years of relentlessly and successfully defending physicians against frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits – a defense that often includes taking the first punch.
“Physicians are healers, and not fighters,” said Segal, a board-certified neurosurgeon. Waiting it out and hoping for the best is no longer an option, at least not in the courtroom.”
With Segal’s help, American physicians have begun to heal their ailing professions by taking off the surgical gloves and striking back against personal injury lawyers, unreasonable plaintiffs, and unethical expert witnesses who file frivolous medical liability lawsuits.
Over the past decade, tens of thousands of physicians across the United States have been forced from their practices due to skyrocketing costs of professional liability insurance premiums. One of the major drivers behind those rising costs is rampant medical malpractice lawsuits – the majority of which were found to have no merit. Frivolous lawsuits come in many shapes and colors. The list includes cases that seek compensation for an untoward outcome where no breach of a standard of care occurred. It also includes lawsuits for medical errors that never took place. Finally, it might involve a case where actual malpractice may have happened, but the lawsuit includes all physicians whose names were found in the patient’s chart. Most of those named in a “shotgun” suit such as this have no connection to the procedure in question. Indeed, some of these physicians might have actually been called to save the patient; their benevolence being rewarded by being dragged into a collective lawsuit.
“The rise of medical malpractice cases has forced many doctors out of the operating room and into the courtroom,” said Segal. “Win or lose, doctors who are sued for medical malpractice lose hundreds of hours to depositions, preparation, and time in court. In addition they pay a price in terms of their reputation and ultimately income. The impact goes far beyond dollars and cents as frivolous cases invariably cause a great deal of stress, anxiety, and depression. The ripple effects reach deeply into physicians’ personal lives as their families are also caught up in the quagmire.” This is more than just theory to Segal. He endured the effects of just such a lawsuit, allowing him to viscerally understand what many physicians in the country had already experienced. That frivolous lawsuit became the driving force that gave him an idea that, over the past five years, has kept thousands of physicians and their loved ones from experiencing the same.
The Good Doctor Strikes Back
An Indiana-based neurosurgeon who co-owned a private practice, Segal operated on thousands of patients over his ten-year career, treating a wide range of injuries stemming from accidental falls to gunshot wounds. He was admired and respected among patients and peers for his work and commitment to patient safety. Segal participated in various state-sanctioned medical review panels to screen cases of alleged medical malpractice and he also served as secretary for the Indiana State Neurosurgical Society.
In 2000, Segal moved his family from Indiana to North Carolina, to seek care for his son who had fallen ill. In the process, he decided to take a year off from practicing neurosurgery to explore development of a certain class of pharmaceuticals he believed would be relevant for his son. That led to Segal co-founding a biotech company that has since been acquired by a larger medical device company.
Within a year of moving south, Segal was hit with a meritless lawsuit, filed by a personal injury lawyer whose practice only infrequently addressed medical negligence. In addition, the sole expert witness was a neurosurgeon who had previously been expelled from a national neurosurgical specialty group, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. The reason: a pattern of delivering “expert” testimony that violated the Association’s ethical code. Fortunately, when he left Indiana, Segal had the foresight to purchase retroactive medical malpractice insurance known as a “tail coverage” in the event a lawsuit might someday rear its ugly head. Nonetheless, the time consumed and emotional stress the lawsuit caused took its toll.
“I gave the patient-turned-plaintiff even more than the standard of care,” said Segal. “The patient had fractured his neck and he was able to leave the hospital quickly and fully intact neurologically. In turn, I was accused of an act of malpractice I did not commit and dragged through a painful litigation process that by its nature treated me with less dignity than many violent criminals enjoy. This not only affected me professionally, it became a dark cloud that hung over my family.”
Segal ultimately prevailed. The case was dropped several weeks before trial. He said, “I did not really win anything. I suppose I just lost less.” Instead of merely licking his wounds and chalking himself up as an actuarial casualty, he decided how much he hated frivolous lawsuits and developed a strategy to do something about it – for all doctors.
Through the process of being sued, Segal realized that if the legal system could be used to work against physicians, there must be a way to use the same system, the same laws, and the same statutes to level the playing field. Hence the idea for Medical Justice Services, Inc. was conceived. Since 2002, Segal has used the proprietary Medical Justice Systems to protect thousands of physicians from frivolous lawsuits. The crux of the systems work as follows:
— Deterrence: Keeping physicians from being sued in the first place through a patented infrastructure in which patients, as partners in the healthcare process, agree not to initiate or participate in frivolous lawsuits against the physician.
— Early Intervention: Notifying personal injury lawyers who file lawsuits, file “Intent to Sue” documents, or wave other red flags, that the physician is protected by Medical Justice against frivolous lawsuits and the company will commit resources and expertise as an offensive remedy if a frivolous case moves forward.
— Prosecution: Funding and providing countersuit services for physician members victimized by frivolous lawsuits.
Medical Justice withstands the Test of Time
Statistics show the services Medical Justiceâ„¢ provides works. For example, 10-15% of Florida physicians are sued each year. Conversely, less than 2% of Medical Justice’s 300 plus Florida members are sued. As a result, both the Florida Medical Association and the Florida Neurological Society have endorsed Medical Justice.
“We see the same pattern with our members throughout the country,” said Segal. “Our major strength is deterrence – keeping doctors from getting sued in the first place. Personal injury lawyers who learn a doctor is under the protection of Medical Justice tend to take a closer look at the allegations of medical malpractice than they do with physicians who are not members.”
Since its inception, Medical Justice has sold nearly 5,000 plans at various levels to physicians of all specialties throughout the United States.
Members Help Members
Medical Justice has an optional service in which members volunteer to provide expert witness testimony in the event another member in the same specialty is sued. These witnesses are not compensated, therefore their only incentive is to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
“Jurors are made aware that our physician witnesses are not compensated for their services as opposed to those hired by plaintiff attorneys,” said Segal. “That says a lot to a jury that is doing its best to weigh the evidence in complex medical matters with which it has little familiarity.”
In addition to providing expert witness testimony, Medical Justice has time and again served as a clearinghouse for all sorts of related information – without additional cost to its physician members.
“One of the most appreciated intangible benefits we offer is that, as physicians, we truly have our members’ best interests at heart,” said Segal. “Sometimes our members just need a person on the other end of the phone that understands what they are going through and how they feel.”
Medical Justice has accumulated an unprecedented body of knowledge on a major factor that drives physician behavior. Concern over potential litigation forces physicians to practice defensively, ordering tests and referrals which do little more than protect the physician if indeed he is sued. The only purpose is for the doctor to be able to say on the witness stand (if that fateful day occurs) that he did everything possible, and more, to prevent an improbable event. It is estimated that such behavior, while entirely rational, adds over $100 billion to our nation’s annual healthcare bill.
Medical Justice recently filed a patent application for a process called HealthCare 2.0 which eliminates the need for practicing defensively. Those funds can be redeployed for patient safety, to lower healthcare premiums for patients, to lower professional liability premiums for physicians, and for faster, more predictable remedies for patients who are injured.
HealthCare 2.0 is the only comprehensive program addressing almost all of the problems defined by all stakeholders in the healthcare system without increasing the cost. Importantly, lower healthcare premiums will translate into fewer uninsured Americans. As Dr. Segal stated, “We are passionate about tackling the problems of our healthcare system with a solution that is sustainable, and more than just the band-aids that have been proposed in the past. Fixing just one problem in isolation will do little more than buy time. Our country pays for a system that should deliver the best healthcare on the planet. HealthCare 2.0 might very well get us to that goal.”
2007 Yanceyville Rd
Greensboro, NC 27405