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What Are the Most Common Reasons Patients Sue Their Doctors?

Healthcare patients don’t just sue doctors on a whim. There are generally very good reasons for when a patient goes through the process of filing a lawsuit against their healthcare provider. Among the most common reasons are lawsuits filed because of medical malpractice. 

There are tens of thousands of medical malpractice lawsuits filed every year. However, that is only a fraction of the number of medical malpractice events that cause unnecessary harm, injury, and death every year. 

According to a Johns Hopkins University study, there are more than 250,000 deaths per year attributed to medical errors. There are hundreds of thousands of additional medical errors that lead to permanent injury, disability, and disfigurement. A good question is not just what are the most common reasons for suing doctors but why don’t more injury victims file lawsuits against their negligent healthcare providers?

A common reason why patients don’t sue their doctors is that they simply don’t know they were victims of malpractice. If you suffered an injury at the hands of your doctor, surgeon, or nurse, find out if the injury was caused by negligence. Talk to your experienced medical malpractice team for legal advice. 

Why Do Patients Sue Doctors?

It is important to address the difficulty of suing doctors for the average patient. The healthcare industry and lawmakers don’t make it easy for an injury victim to take their case to court to get compensation from their doctor who caused the injury. The healthcare and insurance industries spend a lot of money lobbying the government to restrict a patient’s ability to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. 

There are heightened pleading requirements for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in most states. This means it can be harder to file a lawsuit for medical malpractice than it can for a car accident or personal injury claim. Some patients will have to get a doctor or medical expert to sign off on their claim before the case can be filed. In most cases, a medical malpractice attorney will understand the filing practices to make sure the case can go forward in court. 

With the difficulties in filing a lawsuit against a doctor, most patients only file these claims when they have a good reason for suing their doctors. Common reasons patients sue their doctors include: 

Medical Lawsuits in the United States

A study published in the medical journal Lancet looked at why patients and relatives took legal action when suing doctors. The study found that “70% were seriously affected by the incidents with long-term effects on work, social life, and family relationships. The respondents were also impacted by the unsatisfactory explanations from providers about their adverse event, including no assurance that it would be prevented in the future.” 

In an article from the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the author suggested adopting a risk-management mindset can help physicians avoid medical malpractice claims and also reduce the risk of patient injury. Reducing the risk of unnecessary patient injury should be the focus of a doctor’s treatment approach, not just with the goal of avoiding a lawsuit but in the interest of patient care.  

According to the article, the 7 reasons family doctors get sued include: 

  1. Failure to diagnose or a delay in diagnosis
  2. Negligent maternity care practice
  3. Negligent fracture or trauma care
  4. Failure to consult in a timely manner
  5. Negligent drug treatment
  6. Negligent procedures
  7. Failure to obtain informed consent

Looking at some of these issues below, avoiding a lawsuit generally means avoiding negligent medical treatment. Some of these errors are caused by simply failing to take the time and put in the effort to understand each patient as an individual person. 

Failure to Consult in a Timely Manner

Doctors take pride in their experience, training, and medical authority. In some cases, their pride can be detrimental to patients when the doctor fails to get a consultation for an issue they may not fully understand. Consultations and second opinions are often beneficial for both doctors and patients. 

Medical specialists and subspecialists have additional training and education in specific areas of medicine that a general practitioner may not be as familiar with. In some cases, doctors ask colleagues for a brief and general consultation, sometimes known as a “curbside consultation.” If a doctor is unsure and could benefit from a consultation, they should get a consultation in a timely manner or risk injury to the patient. 

Negligent Drug Treatment

Medication can work wonders for patients to address their illnesses and provide relief. However, not all drugs have the same effects on every patient. This is why it is important for doctors to carefully consider medication prescriptions and monitor patient reactions. There are several types of prescription errors, including: 

  • Wrong dose/route/frequency
  • Drug name confusion
  • Improper drug handling
  • Lack of patient monitoring
  • Overprescription of dangerous drugs

Claims for Billing Errors May Hide Medical Mistakes

One reason patients may file a lawsuit against a doctor that does not seem related to medical malpractice is for billing errors. However, improper billing practices may also involve improper medical care. Many patients are shocked to see their medical bills especially when they thought their insurance would cover the procedures. 

It can be very frustrating to deal with billing complaints because the patient often gets pushed back and forth between the doctor’s office and the insurance company. The result for many patients is simply to give up because they think they have no other options. However, a closer review of your medical bills may reveal medical fraud or even medical malpractice. 

There are many types of healthcare fraud, which may involve fraud against the insurance company, Medicare and Medicaid, or the individual patient. Some types of fraud are unfamiliar to patients, including: 

  • Unbundling (billing separately for bundled services)
  • Double-billing
  • Billing for services never provided
  • Performing unnecessary procedures
  • Upcoding for reimbursement at a higher rate

Kickback fraud and self-referral fraud are other types of healthcare fraud that is a criminal offense under federal law. In most cases, these types of fraud only involve the insurance companies or government agencies. However, some types of fraud could directly impact the patient and may indicate possible malpractice, specifically performing unnecessary procedures. 

Performing Unnecessary Procedures

Some doctors may pressure patients to undergo procedures that are not medically necessary or are unadvised under the standards of medical practice, all for the purpose of getting more money from the insurance provider. When a doctor performs a surgery that is not necessary or over-treats a patient, it could be considered malpractice. 

Unnecessary surgery can be a surgery that is incorrect for the patient, fails to properly treat their condition, or is not in the patient’s best interests. An unnecessary surgical operation may involve a misdiagnosis or incorrect medical diagnosis. When an unnecessary surgery is against reasonable medical standards, the doctor may be liable for damages.  

Overtreatment can be harmful, causing unnecessary expense, pain, and suffering to patients. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), overtreatment is “unnecessary treatment for a condition that is not life-threatening or would never cause any symptoms. Overtreatment may lead to problems and harmful side effects. Overtreatment can be a result of overdiagnosis.”

Even doctors acknowledge they are overtreating patients, with one survey finding doctors reported an average of 20% of overall care involved unnecessary treatment, including unnecessary tests, medications, and procedures. When a doctor performs an unnecessary procedure that is considered a deviation from the standards of medical care and causes an injury, the doctor may be liable for medical malpractice. 

Why Patients DON’T Sue their Doctors

Doctors may have misconceptions about why patients file lawsuits. There is a lot of misinformation spread by the healthcare industry about medical malpractice and why insurance costs are so high. Medical malpractice lawsuits are nothing new. They have their basis in American common law and go back hundreds of years. 

One common myth about medical malpractice lawsuits is that they are purely about money. For most patients who file a lawsuit, money is not the primary motivator. Often, it is the way they are treated after negligent care that determines whether they file a lawsuit or not. Patients also want to help others avoid similar accidents in the future. Addressing these issues can help patients and also reduce the risk of a lawsuit but many doctors and hospitals are reluctant to change their approach to medical errors. 

Deny and Defend Does Not Work

Most doctors and hospitals take a “deny and defend” approach to medical mistakes. When a mistake has occurred, even if the doctor knows they were the cause of the mistake, the doctor will deny making a mistake and defend against any accusations of malpractice. The doctor’s medical malpractice defense attorneys will take over the case on behalf of the insurance company and fight the claim. This approach benefits the insurance industry and is not focused on patient care. 

There have been advances in changing the approach after hospitals have seen that the deny and defend approach does not reduce their costs or the number of medical malpractice lawsuits. Instead, the opposite strategy of “communication and response,” has been much more successful. When hospitals take a proactive approach it can have a mutually beneficial outcome by satisfying injury victims and avoiding a long and expensive lawsuit. 

According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), communication and response strategies involve:

  • Full disclosure of problems
  • Investigations
  • Taking steps to avoid similar problems from happening again
  • Apologizing for any errors
  • Financial compensation, when appropriate.  

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has developed a new approach to dealing with unexpected events that cause patient harm, known as CANDOR for Communication and Optimal Resolution. According to AHRQ, the CANDOR process improves patient care through the following: 

  • Empathetic, fair, and just approach to medical errors
  • Promotes a culture of safety focusing on the patient, family, and caregiver
  • Provides an in-depth investigation and analysis
  • Finding an appropriate resolution

The healthcare industry, insurance companies, and medical providers often accuse the rise in malpractice lawsuits for the increases in insurance premiums. However, injury victims are not to blame for the rise in medical malpractice insurance. Instead, the healthcare industry keeps trying to cut costs, even if it increases the risk of patient injury, which ends up costing the healthcare industry more in the end. The insurance companies also continue to raise the insurance premiums to increase their profits, regardless of the amounts they are paying out in claims. 

Is it Time to Sue Your Doctor for Negligent Care?

If your doctor is refusing to address your concerns or continues denying anything went wrong, they may be proactively trying to defend against a future medical malpractice lawsuit because they know they made a mistake. In this case, your best option may be to talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney to make sure your claim is filed in time. 

In some cases, the doctor or hospital may try and resolve the situation before you file a lawsuit. This can be a mutually beneficial outcome but make sure you understand your rights before you accept a settlement. Once you settle a claim, you will not likely be able to file a lawsuit if your injuries turn out worse than anticipated. Before you sign a settlement, get legal advice to make sure your rights are protected. 

Some medical injuries can be deceptive. It may seem like a minor injury in the beginning but continues to get worse. The last thing you want is to accept compensation for a minor injury to learn that you can face permanent disability, chronic pain, or limited organ function. Make sure you get the full compensation for your injuries to address your medical bills, lost income, future medical needs, and pain and suffering.

Contact experienced trial attorneys who have successfully represented medical malpractice victims and their families to recover financial compensation from negligent doctors. Call a malpractice lawyer to find out more about your case and what kind of damages you can recover. For a free consultation, contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162.

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