Leafing through mail revealed a letter from a law office. I broke into a sweat and then calmed myself. Malpractice suit announcements rarely arrive in ordinary US mail. Sure enough it was simple request for records. Someone was having trouble with an insurance company. I get these once or twice a year, and they never fail to upset me.
Whether they win or lose, sued doctors rarely pay a penny, but it’s a horrible experience which they all dread. Doctors worry if something is not going right – say a patient who should get well is not getting well or seems dissatisfied. We all want to do better, but never absent from a doctor’s thoughts is that he doesn’t want to be sued.
You may wonder about the odds that this will happen. The answer: a hundred percent. Five percent of American family doctors are sued each year. The highest risk specialties are neurosurgery and cardiac surgery: 19 per cent sued each year.
To make sure your doctor has never been sued, find one who has just entered practice. If you want to investigate, most states make it easy. You can look me up at the California Medical Board site by entering my name. Feel free to do so. I’m clean.
But state boards are not terribly efficient, and many have time limits – say ten years – after which they drop the information.
Every bad thing that’s happened to a doctor is in the National Practitioners Data Bank in Washington. Hospitals and clinics query it when they’re checking out a doctor. When they don’t, you often read the results on the front page.
The NPDB is off limits to the general public. Activists yearn to change this, but every professional organization would fall upon any legislator who agreed.