Patients are doubly screwed by the malpractice system Part 3 of a series.  Read part 1 and part 2. The aspect of malpractice suits that lawyers seem congenitally unable to understand is how devastating it is. "Ho hum," says a lawyer who read my first two posts in this series. "Get out the violins." It's as if, because I make my living operating on ...

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Part 2 of a series. Read part 1. I realized I was entering into a process the rules of which were entirely separate from normal human interaction when it hit me that news of the lawsuit was in the newspaper before anyone had had the decency to contact me. What kind of people act like that? Civilized behavior, respectfulness -- in short, all the ways in which you'd think nice ...

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Taking lawsuits personally: A surgeons first malpractice case Part 1 of a series. In all my years of practice, my dad called me at the office only twice. The second was to inform me of a horrible family tragedy. The first -- well, I guess in a small way you could say it was the same. "I hear you joined the club," he said. "What?" I had no idea what he was talking about. I'd ...

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Not too long after setting up shop in this town, I shared a tough case with one of my favorite intensivists. (By way of diversion, I'll add there were only two of them at the time, and they were both my favorites. Practical and canny, surgical-patient-wise, they were a pleasure to work with. Over the years we developed great mutual respect and affection; to the extent that caring for critically ill and deeply ...

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Palliative surgery is tough stuff. Nobody wins much, and it often challenges one's ability to think clearly, let alone to tell the truth. Sometimes, I think, it borders on the deceptive; it makes me wonder who's the object of comfort. And yet, when there's nothing else to do, it's often just the right thing. I hate it. To be clear: We're talking about surgery to relieve some sort of specific problem, ...

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The idea behind surgery is a really simple one: You come to me with a specific problem, I fix it, you go away happy. And when you come back, you're still happy. What's so wrong with that? If I wanted to be miserable, I'd have gone into primary care. When a surgeon screws up, his/her role is clear: Admit it, make it better, or as good as possible, and stick with ...

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Speaking only for myself (but guessing I'm not alone), I can say when a patient develops post-op problems, there's a strong tendency to deny it: not to deny there's something wrong; not to dismiss the patient's concerns or symptoms. Just to grasp first at the less dire set of possible explanations. Maybe it's just the flu, constipation, drug reaction. That sort of thing. It's not about blowing it off -- ...

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One of the hardest things about being a surgeon is the inevitability of complications. It's true for any doctor; but with surgery, it's as if they are lit in neon and given a soundtrack. At least to me. Aiming for perfection (as do we all) and beating myself up (more than healthier people) when I miss the mark, I found bad outcomes of nearly any magnitude deeply disturbing. The big ...

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In my core, I always loved doing surgery, and being surgeon to my patients. As I hope I've made clear in my blog, I was always amazed that I was allowed to do it, and awed at the mysterious beauty of it all. As much of a responsibility as it is, it's also an inexplicably wondrous honor and privilege. Those words aren't lightly written. But in a diabolical ...

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In trying to understand my own burnout, "control" (or lack thereof) is a dominant theme. This is nothing new. In fact, I doubt I'm unearthing bones not already thoroughly analyzed. But I can give instructive personal examples. For a while I was on the board of directors of my clinic, which was then and is even more so now one of the most successful doctor-owned and -managed in the US. During ...

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