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Do Patients Sue Doctors They Like?


While no one can predict for sure which Florida doctors will be sued for medical malpractice, there is a strong correlation between whom a patient sues and whom he likes. Just as in any relationship, a person is much less likely to become angry at/attack/sue someone he personally is fond of. Time and time again we see this phenomenon played out: a group of physicians is sued, but the patient directs his attorney to not go after Doctor X because “I like him. He cares for me. He talked with me and answered my questions. He is my friend.” Lack of communication or caring from a physician can easily trump a bad outcome when it comes to being sued.

Even the American Bar Association agrees. “In my experience doctors that take the time to communicate with patients don’t get sued anywhere near as often as those who don’t have a good bedside manner,” says Jan Mulligan, JD, a plaintiff’s attorney in San Diego, California and member of the American Bar Association’s standing committee on professional liability.

A Florida physician or surgeon may think that it takes a lot of time to communicate with a patient, especially when the conversation is lengthy. The flip side of this argument is realizing how much time it takes to go through a medical malpractice lawsuit.

The experts recommend a few simple steps that Florida physicians and surgeons can take to improve patient rapport. These include:

  • Facing the patient while entering information into electronic health records. If appropriate, allow the patient to see what is being entered.
  • Practicing “active listening”, that is repeating back the information the patient provides to reassure the patient that he or she is being heard and, at the same time, confirming the accuracy of the information being put into his record.
  • Acknowledging the time constraints right from the start of the patient encounter to give the patient the feeling that he is not being rushed.
  • Discerning what the patient is not telling the doctor, by body language and non-verbal clues, to determine a correct diagnosis.
  • Training staff in good telephone etiquette, professional demeanor, and techniques to deal with angry or dissatisfied patients.

As in life, it is important for physicians and surgeons to remember that patients want to be heard and treated with the respect they deserve. They want to ask questions about their health and their bodies and expect them to be answered. They don’t like to be kept waiting without an explanation. They want to be able to voice a concern or a complaint and receive a prompt response from the practice.

These simple basic human interaction skills will go far in preventing an expensive, debilitating medical malpractice lawsuit and high medical malpractice insurance premiums.

John Gracey Backer, CPA


John Gracey Backer, CPA, is the Treasurer of Gracey-Backer, Inc., an Insurance Agency in Delray Beach, Florida specializing in All Lines of Malpractice, Professional and Personal Insurance for the Healthcare Provider. He can be contacted at 800-272-6055 ext 128, or at john@gbifl.com.

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