Friday, August 17, 2007

Why Patients Sue

Findings without comment here. These motivations represent a checklist of questions to be posed during depositions of the plaintiff.

As reviewed in Physician Protect Thyself, by Alan G. Williams, JD, Margol, Denver, CO, 2007. Pp. 23-30. They felt deserted. They felt their concerns were not taken seriously enough. Providers failed to convey information well enough. They felt the provider did not understand them. They cited poor communication after an adverse event and an attempt to cover it up. They filed a lawsuit to find out more.

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2007 May;88(5):589-96. What patient attributes are associated with thoughts of suing a physician? Fishbain DA, Bruns D, Disorbio JM, Lewis JE.

RESULTS: The highest percentage (11.5%) of patients affirming the S-MD statement were those involved in workers' compensation and personal injury litigation, compared with only 1.9% of community-living subjects. Stepwise regression of BHI 2 variables produced a 13-variable model explaining 38.04% of the variance. A logistic regression of demographic variables (eg, education, ethnicity, litigiousness) explained 20% of the variance. CONCLUSIONS: Anger (P<.001), mistrust (P<.001), a focus on compensation (P<.001), addiction (P<.001), severe childhood punishments (P<.001), having attended college (P<.001), and other patient variables were associated with thoughts of suing a physician.

N Engl J Med. 2006 May 11;354(19):2024-33. Claims, errors, and compensation payments in medical malpractice litigation. Studdert DM, Mello MM, Gawande AA, Gandhi TK, Kachalia A, Yoon C, Puopolo AL, Brennan TA.

RESULTS: For 3 percent of the claims, there were no verifiable medical injuries, and 37 percent did not involve errors. Most of the claims that were not associated with errors (370 of 515 [72 percent]) or injuries (31 of 37 [84 percent]) did not result in compensation; most that involved injuries due to error did (653 of 889 [73 percent]). Payment of claims not involving errors occurred less frequently than did the converse form of inaccuracy--nonpayment of claims associated with errors. When claims not involving errors were compensated, payments were significantly lower on average than were payments for claims involving errors (313,205 dollars vs. 521,560 dollars, P=0.004). Overall, claims not involving errors accounted for 13 to 16 percent of the system's total monetary costs. For every dollar spent on compensation, 54 cents went to administrative expenses (including those involving lawyers, experts, and courts). Claims involving errors accounted for 78 percent of total administrative costs. CONCLUSIONS: Claims that lack evidence of error are not uncommon, but most are denied compensation. The vast majority of expenditures go toward litigation over errors and payment of them. The overhead costs of malpractice litigation are exorbitant.

N Engl J Med. 1996 Dec 26;335(26): Relation between negligent adverse events and the outcomes of medical-malpractice litigation. Brennan TA, Sox CM, Burstin HR.

RESULTS: Of the 51 malpractice cases, 46 had been closed as of December 31, 1995. Among these cases, 10 of 24 that we originally identified as involving no adverse event were settled for the plaintiffs (mean payment, $28,760), as were 6 of 13 cases classified as involving adverse events but no negligence (mean payment, $98,192) and 5 of 9 cases in which adverse events due to negligence were found in our assessment (mean payment, $66,944). Seven of eight claims involving permanent disability were settled for the plaintiffs (mean payment, $201,250). In a multivariate analysis, disability (permanent vs. temporary or none) was the only significant predictor of payment (P=0.03). There was no association between the occurrence of an adverse event due to negligence (P = 0.32) or an adverse event of any type (P=0.79) and payment. CONCLUSIONS: Among the malpractice claims we studied, the severity of the patient's disability, not the occurrence of an adverse event or an adverse event due to negligence, was predictive of payment to the plaintiff.

Med Care. 2000 Mar;38(3):250-60. Negligent care and malpractice claiming behavior in Utah and Colorado. Studdert DM, Thomas EJ, Burstin HR, Zbar BI, Orav EJ, Brennan TA.

RESULTS: Eighteen patients from our study sample filed claims: 14 were made in the absence of discernible negligence and 10 were made in the absence of any adverse event. Of the patients who suffered negligent injury in our study sample, 97% did not sue. Compared with patients who did sue for negligence occurring in 1992, these nonclaimants were more likely to be Medicare recipients (odds ratio [OR], 3.5; 95% CI [CI], 1.3 to 9.6), Medicaid recipients (OR, 3.6; 95% CI, 1.4 to 9.0), > or =75 years of age (OR, 7.0; 95% CI, 1.7 to 29.6), and low income earners (OR, 1.9; 95% CI, 0.9 to 4.2) and to have suffered minor disability as a result of their injury (OR, 6.3; 95% CI, 2.7 to 14.9). CONCLUSIONS: The poor correlation between medical negligence and malpractice claims that was present in New York in 1984 is also present in Utah and Colorado in 1992. Paradoxically, the incidence of negligent adverse events exceeds the incidence of malpractice claims but when a physician is sued, there is a high probability that it will be for rendering nonnegligent care. The elderly and the poor are particularly likely to be among those who suffer negligence and do not sue, perhaps because their socioeconomic status inhibits opportunities to secure legal representation.

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