I have, for several years now, visited with a primary care physician who is a family friend. She was the first doctor that was referred to my wife and I when we lost our first child shortly after birth. Whatever else she has offered in the way of diagnosis, she has always gone out of her way just to be kind to us, no matter the triviality of our visits.
And here’s an important point about that: I cannot imagine a scenario when we would sue our doctor because of an honest mistake. Or, at least, it would never be our first option. The relationship and rapport she has built with us over the years would incentivize us to find a solution to any issue that protects her as well as us.
Research through the last twenty years all points to the correlation between a physician’s relationship with his/her patients and the number of lawsuits that physician will have filed against them. A compelling article was published by The New York Times in 2015 analyzing this phenomenon, sorting through other possible causes for high malpractice cases. But in the end, the math is simple: the more common complaints against a physician, the more lawsuits. Unkind doctors tend to get sued more than kind doctors.
The Times article examines a program first used at the University of Michigan. The program was meant to “improve communication around medical errors,” but it did much more than that. Part of the program’s methodology was to allow doctors to apologize directly to patients, and to offer them compensation for their medical bills. Several years later, a study of the program showed that lawsuits had dropped a staggering 65%.
However, one of the most difficult realities facing today’s medical professional is the sheer caseload of most physicians. How does one maintain any semblance of a relationship with a revolving door of patients?
That makes developments like concierge medical services, which cap a doctor’s caseload at a predetermined, manageable number, so important. These services have already started to demonstrate a massive decrease in the typical number of malpractice lawsuits. Could a stronger doctor-patient relationship be the reason?
To me, it seems self-evident that suing a detached professional is much easier than suing a friend, or even someone that one finds friendly. And studies suggest that it might not take that much time, perhaps just an extra minute or so to ask how that new job is going, to avoid a painful and damaging lawsuit in the future.