Why patients sue their doctors



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

was the original title of a series of posts I wrote soon after starting this blog. Later the posts were called

 “Stopping medical malpractice- how patients can help”


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.

continued here

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.

continued here

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.

continued here


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 , understood, and respected

continued here  


Dr. Aletha talking to a mother and her son


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



Dr. Danielle Ofri , author of several books about practicing medicine and patient relationships, considers effective doctor-patient communication crucial to successful medical outcomes. I reviewed her book here

What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear- a book review

What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear by Danielle Ofri, MD- a book




Stopping medical malpractice- how patients can help -conclusion

(previously posted under the title 6 reasons to sue your doctor-and how not to-conclusion) 

The final  reason to sue your doctor involves feelings ,which is more  difficult to quantify and illustrate than the behaviors I have discussed before. Attorney Richard Baker tells physicians, “Don’t be afraid to face them (family of a patient with a bad outcome.) It’s important to let them know you understand how they feel. Compassionate gestures count.”

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.

mission trip in Mexico; photo by Brian Edgerton

mission trip in Mexico; photo by Brian Edgerton

More important than liking your doctor is feeling comfortable with their personality and communication style, respecting their knowledge and skill, and trusting that they will behave ethically and do what is in the patient’s best interest. Patients contribute to the relationship by respecting the doctor’s time, observing boundaries on the doctor’s personal life, and being financially responsible.

When you are unhappy with some aspect of your care, doctors prefer that you address the issue directly and respectfully; no one likes feeling attacked personally. A complaint should be as specific as possible and include what you think is the solution. If you find yourself feeling disappointed, frustrated, or angry at your doctor more times than not, don’t let the situation drag on or escalate. It’s time to admit that the relationship is not compatible and move on.

Here are some ideas on how to find a new doctor.

Here is a summary of the 6 ways patients can help stop medical malpractice suits: 

  1. Cultivate communication

    Doctors need to do it better, and patients need to feel that their input is welcome and valued.

  2. Understand what’s happening

    Doctors need to explain information and patients should ask questions when they don’t fully understand

  3. Credentials

    Doctors need to stay current in their specialty certifications and licensure and patients need access to that information.

  4. Follow up-

    Doctors need to report all diagnostic results and patients need to receive them

  5. Report problems-

    Doctors need to know if anything irregular is happening and patient should report their observations without fear of retaliation

  6. Establish rapport

    Doctors and patients don’t need to be BFFs but should respect each other and show kindness and compassion. We all need it.