Medical Justice: De-Escalating Doctor-Patient Conflict for Almost Two Decades

Jeff Segal | 10.5.20

On October 7th, Legal 123s with ByrdAdatto Season 2 will be launched with Episode 1, Patients: Practice Lifeblood or Practice Threat?  Michael and Brad are joined by special guest and ByrdAdatto partner Jeff Segal, MD, JD who is also the founder of Medical Justice and eMerit.  This article about Medical Justice was originally published on the Access+ portal for ByrdAdatto Access+ members.   Enjoy this free access to learn more about Medical Justice and tune into the podcast to hear more about Jeff’s compelling story.

 

Most doctors wake up every morning intending to do the best possible job. Of course, doctors take care of patients. Not all patients are ecstatic about their outcomes. Sometimes this unhappiness morphs into conflict. Conflict is basic to the human condition. If a doctor takes care of 1,000 patients, even if 999 are happy, that one remaining dissatisfied patient may create a headache which will occupy 99% of the doctor’s brain space.

 

That patient may yell at the doctor – in private or in front of other patients. That patient may write a nasty letter. The patient may demand a refund. He may go to small claims court. He may slam the doctor online or complain to the Board of Medicine. Finally, that patient may find a lawyer to file a lawsuit. Medical Justice addresses all of these headaches. More on that shortly.

 

Practicing medicine is hard enough. Trying to deflect a rare, but stressful medico-legal misadventure is enough to make one reconsider a career choice.

 

Medical Justice was created in 2002 (during the most recent cyclical professional liability crisis) to keep doctors from being sued for frivolous reasons. At the time. It was difficult to find professional liability insurance that was affordable, or in some cases, even available. Professional liability crises have cycled through almost every 20 years. We are due for the next upswing.

 

Medical Justice initially focused on holding unethical attorneys and unscrupulous expert witnesses accountable. Medical Justice addresses countersuits and counterclaims against proponents of such suits in a number of different venues. Since, then Medical Justice has worked with over 12,000 doctors to de-escalate conflict, often before it devolves into litigation.

 

Here’s a question that perplexes many plaintiff’s attorneys. I hear it all the time.

 

Why do doctors take medical malpractice so personally?

 

Why do doctors treat medical malpractice differently than being in an auto accident? Shouldn’t we just turn it over to our carriers and be done with it? I don’t think myself the worst driver if I get into a fender bender. I just turn it over to my auto insurer.

 

The reason:

 

The two systems have little in common.

 

First, a med-mal lawsuit is packaged as an assault on your reputation. If you doubt that statement, just read the typical cut and paste summons. It often includes language such as “with willful and wanton neglect” and so on. It’s never couched in language such as “you are a talented doctor who made a mistake. We understand you are human and care deeply about your patients. But, with Mr. Smith, the injury has cost him lost wages and future medical costs.”

 

Next, the subtext is that you will be tried by twelve lay-persons who know little about medical care – and your future will be tied to a theatrical battle of experts lasting about 4-5 years. And the outcome might very well cost more than policy limits – putting your entire nest egg at risk for ruin.

 

You will spend a great deal of time preparing for and in depositions – time you could be earning revenue and taking care of patients.

 

You are told not to talk about the case. It’s stressful to hold matters such as this inside.

 

You will learn that medical malpractice settlements and judgments correlate more with the amount of injury as opposed to likelihood of negligence. In other words, death, stroke, loss of limb – high likelihood of payout.

 

You will have to explain your record every time you apply for licensing and privileges.

 

Settlements and judgments now appear on many state licensing board web sites.

 

Settlement and judgments are posted in the National Practitioner Data Bank.

 

You may hear an expert deliver testimony that has never been uttered before. And a jury might find his delivery credible and compelling.

 

Against admonitions from a judge, jurors might visit various doctor rating sites to see what other patients think of you. Do they rate you as an arrogant, uncaring person who never listens? Or do they say they are thankful you got out of bed at 2AM to save their mother. Think this doesn’t impact a jury’s decision? I think it does.

 

If you are a doctor in a high-risk specialty, there is a 99% chance you will be sued over your career.

 

So, I close where I began. Most doctors take a medical malpractice lawsuit personally for good reasons. I’m more surprised plaintiff’s attorneys are surprised.

 

While the number of venues patients have to vent their anger has multiplied over the past two decades, so have the solutions we have brought to the table. When the Internet became a platform to rate doctors, we developed the eMerit platform to protect and preserve a doctor’s most precious asset, his or her reputation. We made it easy to capture patient feedback so that the voices of all patients were heard, not just the ones shouting the loudest. In that way, a doctor would be defined by a critical mass of patients, not just the angry two with a megaphone.

 

Medical Justice has served doctors as the trusted advocate for the profession. Doctor-patient conflict is inevitable. Preventing or addressing such conflict head-on is what Medical Justice has done for almost two decades.

 

For more information on protecting the patient risk to your practice, schedule a consult with us at info@byrdadatto.com.

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