Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Please Be Kind (We Are Your Doctors)

"The biggest cost of suits brought under the malpractice system is the emotional injury that physicians experience when they believe they did the best possible under difficult circumstances." ~ AMA Board of Trustees

Much has been written recently in the local news about medical malpractice-escalating premiums, physicians leaving medicine due to threat of lawsuits or inability to obtain coverage, the right of an injured patient to appropriate redress... but little about its impact on the physician as an individual.

A great physician strives for perfection, seeks and accepts responsibility, and is willing to sacrifice. But what makes us great also opens us to the injuries and burnouts of medical practice. Our medical culture demands time from our families and ourselves. We have high rates of substance abuse. We have 20% higher rates of divorce. Male physicians are twice as likely to commit suicide as the general population; female physicians have four times that rate. We are in a high profile, high stress occupation but have chosen this road and embrace this journey. Being your physician is not just what we do, it is who we are.

A medical malpractice case doesn't simply question our care, it attacks our being. It leads to shock, distress, shame, and depression. We begin to doubt our medical abilities. The secrecy or infamy isolates us from our family, friends, and colleagues.

When faced with a recent medical malpractice case, I examined my own words and actions with diligence-had I done everything that I should? I was "negligent, incompetent, reckless, careless" -was this so?

My case dragged on for more than a year before it was dismissed, and for most of those days the specter of my alleged mistakes rode upon my shoulder. The thick cream envelope from my lawyer sapped me daily, full of arcane motions, actions, and requests for more information. These missives in foreign tongues did nothing to comfort me; they just kept the wound open.

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