"We’re losing a war that we didn’t realize we were fighting"

A physician does everything right, yet is sued. The theatrical plaintiff’s attorney played a scene from Lord of the Rings, equating doctors to monsters:

Five years later I found myself walking into a courtroom to face charges of medical malpractice. The suit said that because of my negligence, a man had been a quadriplegic for four years and then died of sepsis after a decubitus ulcer became infected. The litigation put my career on a stage where lawyers exchanged verbal jabs, each trying to get in a punch for a knockout. To watch this pugilistic debate was mesmerizing. I sat on the edge of my seat, watching nonmedical people try to explain to 12 lay people what I did or didn’t do wrong.

This experience forced me to realize how much my life was out of whack. I had no balance, no boundaries. All I did was work. I took a close look at what was really important to me. Could I accept the sacrifices I made to be the very best that I could be? Putting other people’s needs in front of my own? Would they do the same for me?

It was profoundly enlightening to realize that my career was in the hands of 12 strangers who were expected to understand and interpret in three weeks what had taken me 10 long years to learn; and even longer to practice and internalize. Maybe it was akin to a 400-pound man coming to me as a stranger, asking that I save his life and keep it as it was before he was thrown off that motorcycle going 40 miles an hour.

She wins the trial, and predictably the ordeal has changed her forever:

I have never been the same. I have never practiced the same. Now I’m more careful about my documentation. I discuss things ad infinitum with patients to make sure they understand. And I order more tests than before. Some people would call this defensive medicine, but it’s what we’ve been forced to do to protect ourselves.

Whether you believe in defensive medicine or not, this scenario is repeated countless times daily. Still wondering why health costs are soaring?


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