My name is Dr. Jay Staub and I am an Obstetrician & Gynecologist in Dallas, Texas. I have been practicing medicine since 1983 and I love what I do. That’s not to say my chosen profession is not without “good days” and “bad days”. Actually, when you have been in practice as long as I have, there are “great days” and others (though few) that can best be described as a “living nightmare”.
Let me explain. I get to lend a hand and bear witness to the miracle of life with all its fragility and sometimes frailty on a daily basis. I still leave work every day in as much awe and amazement of birth as when I was a young medical student. These are the “great” and “good” days for sure, and I am blessed that they represent the majority of my career. I would now like to offer a glimpse into the other end of the spectrum of being a doctor – getting sued. I plan to share observations, and perhaps some hard lessons, on what I believe to be a positive shift in the thought and process of fixing the broken one-hundred-year-old medical malpractice industry. I will share my personal story of getting the dreaded call that a patient was suing me a little later. But first, I want to tell you that good things are happening, and it’s time to pay attention to the shift.
The changing landscape of professional liability regulations and the rapid increase in new threats associated with practicing medicine today requires physicians to have a deeper understanding of risk mitigation than ever before. The days of just having medical malpractice insurance to protect you are no longer enough. Unfortunately, it is not a matter of if you will be sued, but more a question of when. Fortunately, there are now physician protection programs that place increasing emphasis and advanced capabilities towards the prevention of non-meritorious litigation and proactive patient communications tools. This new breed of physician protection provider focuses heavily on predictive and preventative approaches to proactively mitigate risk and safeguard your reputation and brand while you are providing patient care. The need for protection in the form medical malpractice insurance still exists, but it is now the last line of defense instead of being the only one.
Now, let me tell you about my experience of being sued. It was many years ago, and all the advancements I mention above where not yet available. The first hard lesson I learned was that the plaintiff’s first phone call is to an attorney, and once I was informed of being sued, I was on the phone with a med mal claims adjuster. But I am getting ahead of myself, let me explain the circumstances that led to me being sued in the first place.
This incident took place almost twenty years ago. I was providing care for an expecting patient that was experiencing numerous complications with her pregnancy. She was well aware that there were concerns and was fully informed that there were issues as her pregnancy progressed toward delivery. The risks were discussed and acknowledged with the patient and her spouse. Then came the “bad day”.
This all resulted in a premature birth and a diagnosis of cerebral palsy for her newborn child. We hoped for the best, prepared for the worst and received the latter. The newborn was sent to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and I went on to care for my next scheduled patient after answering their questions and showing compassion for their new reality. She was appreciative of the care, emotional from the results and I left her and her spouse to comfort each other.
Later that day, unbeknownst to me and with incomplete knowledge of the case, a NICU nurse told my patient “you should keep a diary and document everything, because this is not supposed to happen”. A few weeks later I received a phone call that I was being sued for negligence and that “bad day” almost instantly became a life changing nightmare. The ensuing legal battle lasted for three years and six months resulting in a brutal trial that consumed me for almost four weeks.
No negligence, and all named defendants were exonerated. We won!
But does anyone ever really win?
Welcome to the nightmare. Nothing really prepares you for the call that informs you that you are being sued by a patient. And nothing prepares you for the litigation journey that is about to consume years of your life…even if you prevail or “win” at the conclusion of the suit. Now, to add insult to injury after you “win” – in today’s digital world, you still have to face all the negative comments and possibly bad reviews that are wide spread across social media and medical review websites. As a physician, your reputation is your brand.
So, now let’s focus on how to solve for (or at least soften) these negative impacts and keep this from happening to you in your career.
As I stated above, there is currently a new breed of physician protection available that addresses the current landscape of professional liability and risk facing doctors today. How do you stay ahead of the technology that increases the threats against you? With better technology designed to prevent and predict your exposure to risk. The three words you now need to remember are Predict, Prevent, and Protect – and in that order.
There are a few select providers that are harnessing the capabilities of predictive analytics. The reason this is important to physicians is it pools you with other low risk insureds and ultimately results in a lower premium for you, and a much lower cost structure for your provider. These savings to your provider allows them to deploy and support the preventative part of the program. This is a major shift in mindset from the past. Research has proven that comprehensive patient communication and survey platforms are a catalyst for lowering the risk of physicians being sued. It is also a major step in creating a favorable experience for the patient and an immediate feedback loop for the practice to correct a misunderstanding. A positive patient experience and proactive communications is the springboard to positive online reviews, referrals and ultimately measurable reputation management and a positive brand. The last part of a true “Physician Protection Program” is medical malpractice insurance. As I stated earlier, it is imperative to make sure that your carrier provides you with an in-house claims attorney advantage, and not just a claims adjuster. If your heart stops, you want a cardiac surgeon. If you get sued, you want a lawyer.
In closing, there are definitely additional obstacles and risks associated with practicing medicine today that were not a concern only a few years ago. There are also solutions to these new threats and a whole new way of thinking in regard to solving for professional liabilities. Preventative and proactive efforts on your behalf coupled with choosing a Physician Protection Provider that offers a holistic approach towards safeguarding you, your reputation and your brand will deliver those “good” and “great” days…and hopefully mitigate a potential nightmare into only a bad day.
Dr. Jay Staub, MD, FACOG
Medical Director and Physician Advisor for Capson Physicians Insurance