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Medical Morale Hits New Low

I was catching up on my Wall Street Journal blog reading, when I came across a post about a physician who was sued for prescribing painkillers to a patient who proceeded to crash her car. The crash killed a pedestrian, and the victim’s wife is now suing the driver’s doctor. Obviously, this case sends chills down physician spines – as it seems that we are now held responsible for patient behavior outside of the the doctor-patient relationship or hospital setting. 

Beyond the outrageousness of the case itself, is the sad subtext found in the comments section. Physician after physician respond that they are leaving medicine or have ceased clinical practice. They say that they’d never allow their children to become doctors, and that no amount of compensation is worth the risk and sacrifices of a career in medicine. It’s really depressing to read about such low morale.

For those physicians remaining – I do see a couple of bright spots. First of all, concierge medicine (or “micropractices” where patients pay cash for services) permits the doctor to see fewer patients at the same salary. Removal of the administrative headaches associated with insurance reimbursement as well as the frenetic pace of “volume uber alles” dramatically improves quality of life and patient satisfaction. The physicians I know who have switched to cash-only businesses are very happy.

Second, working as a physician for the US military has one major advantage: you cannot be sued. The idea is that military physicians do their very best to take care of the troops, but it is recognized that military personnel are at great risk for physical harm due to the nature of their job. The Feres Doctrine stipulates that military personnel cannot sue the government for perceived (or real) poor medical outcomes related to active duty. In cases of medical negligence (for veterans and off-duty military personnel), the government may be sued, but not the individual physician

So, if the tyranny of medical malpractice attorneys becomes unbearable, one might consider practicing in a VA or military hospital. Sounds crazy, I know… but it’s worth a look! Of course, a better solution would be for the next administration to take on Tort Reform in a serious way, and promote tax breaks and facilitate health savings accounts for Americans who’d like to have more control in how they spend their healthcare dollars. Maybe then they could sign up for an affordable concierge practice and at last both doctors and patients could be happy again?

What do you think?

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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3 Responses to “Medical Morale Hits New Low”

  1. rummuser says:

    I am not aware of all the intricacies involved.  Perhaps the time has come for the medical profession to start counter suing lawyers for harrassment !

  2. Ian Furst says:

    Hey Val,

    In Canada malpractice insurance is roughly 1/10th of the US.  A malicious person could still make your life hell with complaints and lawsuites but it will cost them and there is the risk of being assessed court costs if it’s frivalous.  The biggest issue seems to be contingency fees which are not really allowed up here.  American family practice is hanging on by a thread right now and if family doctors decide to limit there practice to only those with case up front (and half the patient load) people should expect severly limited availability to a family physician.  You’ve got the ear of the policy makers – let’s see if you can make them see the light.

  3. Jared at The Doctor Job says:

    I DO NOT think that physicians should be held responsible for anything that their patients do. Since when are doctors suppose to be police officers?

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