I am a consultant for the local medical board; I evaluate cases for potential violations of standard of care. I will spend a great deal of today examining a complaint filed against a colleague. These cases consist of a patient or a patient’s family who have written a letter of complaint against a doctor. I opine if the complaint has merit. These cases are complicated by the fact the patients doing the complaining are mentally ill and not always sound in their thinking. It can be a daunting task. I try hard to be as neutral a judge as possible.
Stripped of the legal words and medical mumbo-jumbo the majority of these cases can be distilled down to a simple story: the patient feels the doctor was a jerk and he (nearly all are male) didn’t explain things. The patient has hurt feelings.
Alas, the conclusion to these cases is often the doctor didn’t do anything ‘wrong’ per se but reading between the lines he was a jerk. How do I tactually write a report stating if he hadn’t been an a-hole none of this mess would have happened?
The doctors against whom complaints or lawsuits are filed often say it is the system that is the problem or it is greedy patients and dastardly lawyers. Yet who is sued/complained against is not random – most complaints are against only some doctors. These doctors are some what different than the doctors who are not. In the research it turns out the desire for remuneration is not as important to patients as wanting to be informed/heard. Studies show doctors who spend time explaining things are far less likely to be sued or have complaints against them.
In summary: more friendly doctors are less likely to have complaints filed against them.
A study in 2010 supported the notion if doctors apologized the chances of lawsuits went dramatically down.
Try telling this to my colleagues. They feel patients who file complaints/suits are doing it for the money. In contrast the patients when interviewed say they are doing it for negligence based on poor communication. Yet efforts to appease complaints continue to focus on trying to make it harder for patients to file complaints.
Poor communication remains the problem – and the norm, alas.
One reason why doctors dislike ‘on-line reviews’ which places them among restaurants and plumbers and other service work is the unconscious reminder stripped of our fancy training we are in customer service. The key to less negative reviews in customer service is better service, especially in the forms of bedside manner and explanations.