Why patients sue their doctors


Last year I wrote a  series of posts about reasons to sue a doctor. The idea came from a medical journal article for physicians about avoiding malpractice  .  I thought patients should know the suggestions as well, so I took some of the ideas and wrote a 4 part article titled

“6 reasons to sue your doctor and how not to”.

I thought the title would catch readers’ attention. But it didn’t. To date, it still has had few views. I’m not sure why, but I guess  the title is misleading , since I really don’t want you to sue your doctor. Maybe  people are not as eager to sue as we doctors fear.

But I believe the information is valuable, so I renamed the series

“Stopping medical malpractice- how patients can help”.

That may still be misleading, but it stays true to the original source.

The main point of the series ,the relationship between patients and physicians, prompted me to start this blog. Too often doctors and patients become adversaries rather than partners, and this series addresses that.

You will find  links to all four articles in the series here, with a brief excerpt from each one. They have also been slightly revised and updated.

Part 1

In the March 2015 issue of Medical Economics, attorney Richard Baker wrote,  “Being sued for malpractice, especially for the first time, can be an unsettling and frustrating experience for a physician.”    And stressful and unsettling for a patient, or patient’s family .

A medical malpractice lawsuit follows an adverse medical outcome –

  • a missed or inaccurate diagnosis,
  • an ineffective or harmful treatment,
  • a surgery gone bad,
  • an outcome that left permanent harm or at worst, death.

Patients become  upset and often angry, and may assume that malpractice has occurred. They want to hold the doctor responsible , and want compensation for medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering.

I don’t understand all the legal aspects of medical liability. But an unsatisfactory outcome may not mean poor care ;  illness or injury can be so severe  that any treatment is ineffective.  Or  there were multiple possible treatment options so the physician  made a judgement call that proved less than ideal.

But  it may reflect some behavior on the part of the doctor, another healthcare professional, or even the patient that could have been avoided.

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Dr. Aletha treating a child




Part 2

No matter how careful hiring policies are , incompetent, unscrupulous and dishonest employees get into the healthcare system undetected. This is  bad for any industry, but in healthcare is  dangerous and even deadly.

If you notice something out of line in a medical office or hospital, or if the care is not as expected, don’t hesitate to report it to someone in authority. You can do this anonymously, although the more specific information you provide, the more likely the situation can be corrected .Even if nothing proves to be wrong, it will  give them helpful feedback about their service.

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Dr. Aletha examining an infant




Part 3

You can’t control  your doctor’s training, CME (continuing medical education), and certifications. But you have a right and responsibility to confirm that the doctor is qualified to perform the services offered. Doctors’ offices have diplomas, licenses, awards displayed on the walls for a reason-they want you to look at them.  Hospitals and other health care facilities confirm  that  the  physicians who work there have the appropriate credentials.  Social media expert Kevin Pho, M.D. explains  how to check out a doctor’s credentials online-

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Dr. Aletha with a health worker in Central America

Here I am with a health worker at a rural clinic in Central America. We held a medical outreach with a volunteer team.






The best way for physicians and patients to work through their feelings about a bad outcome is to start out with a mutually respectful, cooperative relationship. Just like any other relationship, there may be times of disagreement; but these can and should be resolved with each satisfied that their viewpoint has been listened to and considered and  are comfortable with the final decision.

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Dr. Aletha talking to a mother and her son



(Photos are from volunteer medical trips to Mexico, Panama, Ecuador and VietNam )



So tell me- which title do you like better? Or, can you suggest other ideas?

What would be the ideal title for this series?