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How Doctors View Incompetent Doctors

On December 9, 2015, Medscape published its results from a survey that asked 4000 physicians various questions about medical malpractice lawsuits. Although the news surrounding the survey has focused on the number of doctors who have been sued and the primary reasons for a lawsuit, the survey contained some interesting results on how doctors view other doctors who commit malpractice or otherwise are incompetent.

When asked what they think when another doctor makes a "real" medical mistake, 41% of physicians responded that "some doctors are negligent and incompetent and it's fine to sue them." Another 8% responded that the "patient or the family is probably just trying to make money by suing a doctor."

When asked whether they would sue another doctor who committed a medical error that harmed them, only a minority of physicians said they would sue, with anesthesiologists being the most likely to sue (26%) and OB/GYNs the least likely to sue (15%).

These answers are best understood in the larger context of the survey, where doctors revealed a disdain for the legal system. Although we are long past the debate whether medical malpractice tort reform will reduce medical costs (it does not), the vast majority of doctors still cling to the passe notion that patients should not receive full compensation for injuries caused by malpractice and that doctors should be judged by medical panels instead of jurors, feeling that jurors are not competent to render justice in a medical malpractice case (although doctors prevail in approximately 90% of cases tried to a jury).

If a majority of doctors believe that incompetent doctors should not be legally responsible for the harm caused by malpractice, the message from the medical community is that others should have to pay for their avoidable mistakes. Under this scenario, the injured patient, the patient's insurers, and the government will be left to pay the tab for the harm caused by the incompetent physician. Our tort system assures that this does not occur and that the malpracticing physician is held accountable for his or her mistakes that harm patients.

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