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Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

I wrote some time ago about some doctors conditioning treatment on patients promising not to post online reviews of the doctor. This is directed at websites like Angie’s List, RateMD’s.com, and the like. The way this works is that the physician will not see the patient unless the patient executes an agreement not to post reviews of this type. Today the Washington Post writes about these kinds of requirements becoming more prevalent in the Washington, D.C. metro area.

These kinds of sites exist for lawyers too. I understand that most professionals don’t want to be at the mercy of a layperson who may not understand the realities we work under. Plus, most of these services have no filter, so there may be content posted that is inflammatory, defamatory, or outright false. The crackpot with an ax to grind has the same ability to post that a legitimate consumer does.

The problem here is that all professionals, including doctors and lawyers, are in a customer service industry. It’s true that a layperson may not really have the knowledge to assess the quality of medical or legal services. On the other hand, it is easy for the average person to judge whether the staff is friendly or rude, wait times are unreasonable, if phone calls are returned promptly, or if facilities are clean and well-kept.

I think it is normal for professionals in any field to become accustomed to the processes and procedures we deal with every day. I think that phenomenon is particularly pronounced in the legal field. Most people have extremely limited experience with the workings of the court system in general, and with civil litigation in particular. The average citizen’s legal experience is most likely limited to serving jury duty, or appearing as a defendant in traffic court.

For example, I have often had clients seem surprised that I am usually quite friendly with the attorney representing the defendant in their personal injury case. To me, most of these lawyers are colleagues, law school classmates, or simply fellow professionals that I have gotten to know across the aisle at trials. They seem to believe that adversarial equates to hostile. This issue often arises in clients’ frustration with the pace (extremely slow) of litigation. People also seem to believe that the insurance company or defense attorney has a particular axe to grind against them, where I see that as business as usual.

This is an overly long intro to a blog that I have found to be great reading. There is an emergency department doctor who was sued for medical malpractice and is blogging about the course of his own trial (after the fact).

Today the Maryland Daily Record reports that the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen has rated Maryland’s physician discipline system as one of the worst in the country.

Public Citizen’s spokesman (who is also an M.D.) states that this “is troubling because it indicates many states are not living up to their obligations to protect patients from bad doctors.” Maryland is ranked 45th and has been one of the ten worst states for the past six rankings.

In rebuttal, Irving Pinder (Executive Director of the Maryland Board of Physicians) called Public Citizen’s findings flawed.

In Maryland, the conduct of licensed physicians is governed by the Maryland Board of Physicians. This entity essentially determines who is licensed to practice medicine in Maryland, and is responsible for disciplining doctors when they don’t follow the rules.

The conduct of licensed attorneys is governed by the Court of Appeals of Maryland. The Court sets the standards for admission to the Maryland bar and handles disciplinary issues regarding attorney misconduct. The Attorney Grievance Commission acts as “prosecutor” of attorneys accused of misconduct.

I would like to contrast two cases to illustrate how this process works. First: the case of attorney Jill Johnson Pennington. This lawyer was hired to handle a personal injury case. She failed to competently represent her clients by missing the statute of limitations. This effectively ended any chance the clients had to recover in court. OK. That isn’t good. It only gets worse. Compounding the problem, the lawyer lied to the clients about whether their case had been filed. Then she presented them with false settlement paperwork, making it look like the party responsible was settling. In reality, the lawyer was paying her own funds to make the faux “settlement”. She never told the clients what had happened or about the possible malpractice claim they had against her.

The internet has proven to be a valuable tool for consumers. With a few keystrokes, it is easy to obtain multiple reviews of a product or service. This is true for electronics, appliances, restaurants, hotels, even lawyers.

This “consumer review” phenomenon has caught up to the medical industry. Many doctors have become concerned about reviews posted online by patients. The Baltimore Sun’s Consuming Interests blog reports that some doctors are requiring patients to sign waivers promising not to post these kinds of reviews.

Great customer service, guys. What are you afraid of? Judging by the comments to the Sun’s story, consumers of medical services don’t like this idea too much.

I am so tired of trial lawyers being portrayed as the bad guy. I’m not a bad guy. The dedicated attorneys I work with aren’t bad guys. Yet trial lawyers are a consistent easy target for anyone with an axe to grind about the civil justice system.

Yesterday I blogged about the one sided editorials appearing in the Baltimore Sun on the issue of medical malpractice. Ron pointed out how it appears The Sun went out of its way to target trial lawyers in a February 17, 2009 editorial about legislative efforts to increase the caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the Sun then printed a letter to the editor from a physician named Mark Haas that actually went after trial lawyers three different times in the same letter.

How much do doctors really know about the impact of medical malpractice? I noticed last week there was a letter to the editor in the Baltimore Sun, written by a doctor. The doctor opined that frivolous lawsuits and the cost of practicing defensive medicine were driving good doctors out of the state.

I read with interest the response letter from the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association. Apparently the original letter writer’s subjective beliefs weren’t borne out by the facts. Doctors aren’t fleeing the state, and there is no tide of needless litigation choking the courts.

Simple self-interest dictates that very few frivolous medical malpractice suits are filed. These kinds of cases are complex and generally require several very expensive expert witnesses to prove. No medical malpractice lawyer will put up that kind of money for a frivolous case.