Tuesday, January 29, 2008

CNN Wants Patients To Sue Doctors

The fine journalistic minds at CNN have produced this masterpiece article, entitled "Should I sue my doctor?" The article discusses one case in which a woman who was undergoing a hysterectomy had a complication (it appears one of her ureters were nicked). Now, I'm no surgeon but I believe this is a common complication of the procedure. And, as expected, the article explains as much. In fact, it is so common that even most lawyers the patient (a physician herself) went to see refused to take the case. Luckily, from the surgeon's point of view, the patient does not have much grounds to sue (I'm assuming the patient signed a consent and the doctor was not grossly negligent).

So what's the problem? The whole premise of the article, especially the title! Even though the entire story is an anecdote about when a patient should not sue their doctor, CNN perpetuates the notion that patients should be trigger-happy in filing suits against their doctors anytime everything does not go as expected. The article reinforces this notion with quotes like:
"The first question everyone I know asks is, 'Are you suing?'" says Christine. "My mother, my sister-law-law, my husband. My husband is on a rampage -- he's on the lawsuit bandwagon."
Christine, who's a physician herself and didn't want her last name used, was reluctant to sue. She didn't want a black mark against her doctor. "He's such a nice guy. He delivered my children," she says.
The thing that really gets me is that this patient is a physician herself! She should know better than anyone else the risks involved with the procedure and whether or not her doctor was truly negligent. "Christine" even states:
Christine says her doctor explained what he thought went wrong: When he was using a cauterizing tool, he must have nicked the ureter, the duct that carries urine from the kidneys to the bladder. "He really owned up to it," Christine says.
So, Christine believes the doctor took responsibility and then treated her appropriately. Then why the hell is she suing??? This just makes no sense. If doctors are going to sue other doctors, then what hope do physicians have from avoiding frivolous lawsuits from lay patients? The article does go on to note that in other countries, there are general compensation funds which assist patients who have had complications recover their costs without assigning culpability to physicians in cases where the mistakes are not due to negligence. We really should have a system like that here, but somehow a "social" solution in the US seems unlikely. Gasp! Social medicine! Perish the thought!


  1. I agree with you -- this article is unnecessary and it's also dangerous to physicians working in the US. It's f-ed up.

    I tore my coat on an abnormally long door strike plate while walking into a Half-Price Books the other day, and I have greater justification for suing (even though I wouldn't) than this woman has.

  2. As I mentioned in the post, what really got me was that the "patient" herself was a doctor!!! What on earth was she thinking?!

  3. You know what they say on wards: "Doctors are the worst patients."

    In fact, I think the most difficult patient I've ever seen was, in fact, a physician (or so my team thought).



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