Posted by Bill Sandweg.
Doctors are human beings, just like you and me. Most are wonderful, caring people, who chose medicine as a career so they could spend their lives helping others. Not all are so selfless, however. Not all chose medicine to help others. A sizable number of doctors chose medicine because it is a high prestige occupation with the opportunity to make a lot of money. Juries tend to think of the wonderful, caring doctors when they meet the greedy, opportunistic ones in the courtroom. It is just another way in which people who have been victims of medical negligence through no fault of their own are further victimized by the legal system.
I have been practicing law for a long time and have seen many doctors in the course of my practice. Some have been defendants accused of malpractice. Some have been expert witnesses, either for the patient or for the doctor. Some have been doctors who participated in the care of the plaintiff but were not at fault for the plaintiff’s injury. Some were caring, compassionate doctors but some were greedy, arrogant jerks. I have found that the greedy, arrogant jerks are sued far more often than their caring colleagues.
Anyone can make a mistake. This includes the caring, compassionate doctors. To err is human. It has been my experience, however, that the greedy, arrogant jerks are more likely to make mistakes that injure their patients and, when they do, are more likely to be sued by their patients.
Greedy, arrogant doctors are in it for the money and the prestige. They often see patients as cash cows and not people deserving of respect. They arrange their practices in such a way as to maximize their income rather than to provide the best care possible. For example, some greedy surgeons try to perform as many operations as possible during a day. They book the surgeries back-to-back-to back. They may even leave assistants to finish the surgery so they can go to another operating room and start on to the next surgery.
Speed is essential. Pity the poor patient who develops a complication during or after surgery. This patient is screwing up the schedule. The complication needs to be addressed quickly, if the schedule is to be maintained and the money to be made. If a patient develops problems during the immediate post-surgery recovery phase, the surgeon may be in surgery with the next patient and unable to respond as quickly and effectively as they could have, if they were not distracted by the current surgery. They may leave the post-surgical monitoring of the patient to assistants or to nurse practitioners or even to the poor recovery room nurse, none of whom are as qualified or knowledgeable as the primary surgeon.
Some of the most significant injuries I have seen have been among post-surgical patients who were not closely followed by the surgeon. I have seen paraplegias, quadriplegias, death and lots in between. When these tragic and often avoidable complications occur, you can count on the surgeon to blame the nurse, whom the surgeon claims to have been counting on to let him know if any problems developed. There is often a “he said, she said” in which the nurse claims to have informed the surgeon of the developing problem while the surgeon, who does not deny the phone call, denies that the nurse accurately communicated the patient’s condition.
Greedy, arrogant doctors also cut corners in other ways. Maybe they don’t read all of the test results they get back on their patients. Maybe they don’t want to spend too much time listening to the patient’s history or current complaints. After all, there are other patients waiting and the doctor’s time is valuable. It is clearly more valuable than yours, which is the reason you arrive on time for your appointment only to find that the doctor is still seeing other patients scheduled before you. You may sit for an hour or more before the doctor can get to you. The more patients the doctor can pack into a day, the more money there is to be made. Given a choice between the doctor having a gap between patients and scheduling patients on top of each other so there is always someone waiting, the greedy doctor knows exactly which choice to make.
It would be fair, if the jury could know when the defendant is one of the greedy jerk doctors is but that information is kept from the jury. At the trial, they see a doctor who has been polished to a high gloss by an experienced defense attorney. The doctor’s spouse sits next to the doctor and looks worried. They often hold hands in the hallway so the jurors can see them on their way to the rest room or to lunch. They smile at the jury and give every indication of being the caring, compassionate kind of doctor. It is no wonder the jury often responds favorably to the doctor and finds against the patient. Juries want to believe their doctors are kind and compassionate and the greedy jerk doctor is more than happy to help maintain the illusion.