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My Turn: Malpractice support group will also help patients

Thank you for Sarah Palermo’s article reporting on the New Hampshire Medical Society’s initiative to create a support group for physicians experiencing the stress of a medical malpractice suit (“Support group to help those facing malpractice suits,” Sunday Monitor front page, Dec. 15). This project is long overdue.

As physicians we want our patients to do well, as much as they want to do well. A bad outcome can be devastating to any care provider, whether we feel at fault or not. We are human beings who take our life-and-death responsibilities very seriously. A medical malpractice suit can feel like someone pouring salt on a wound.

Ironically, the process separates us from our patient when we most need each other. Also, litigation isolates us from our colleagues, family and friends, as we are told not to talk with anyone about the case except for our malpractice defense attorney. This isolation can continue for three to six years, the time it takes to resolve a suit.

Our malpractice system is an arena completely foreign to most physicians. In a medical suit, we encounter intimidating, skilled litigators in an adversarial environment, unlike medicine where we strive to work in collaboration with others to help our patients.

The malpractice support group initiated by the New Hampshire Medical Society will not only benefit doctors, but it will also serve their families and their patients well. I have often told my friends who are lawyers that they do not want to see a physician who is in the midst of a malpractice suit. He or she is not the same compassionate, conscientious care provider they once knew. Actually, such a physician is more apt to make a mistake and certainly more likely to practice defensive medicine.

Many physicians strongly consider retirement after experiencing malpractice litigation. As the article noted, I know three young obstetricians who retired early after being sued, even though they were successfully defended. The words of one will always ring in my head when she sadly said, “I do not ever want to give my blood, sweat and tears again to risk another malpractice suit.”

She is now teaching high school biology in Oklahoma – noble work, but still a tragic loss for her and our society.

(Dr. Oge Young is past president of the New Hampshire Medical Society.)

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