Sometimes malpractice occurs. At other times the result the patient desires is not achieved, but physicians striving for the best outcome for a patient are unable to deliver that result even though all their efforts are in accordance with the best standards of medical care. Even when a physician is confident he or she has done nothing wrong, they know he or she potentially faces years of depositions, self-doubt, and a trial. Emotional strain and financial loss are a frequent result.
Accordingly I was immediately anxious when a large envelope was delivered to me by special mail many years ago. On opening the envelope I was confronted with a 30-page document authored by a patient I had recently seen. The document was obviously a lawsuit. I hastily reviewed in my mind what interaction I had experienced with the patient and then I obtained her chart to study what interaction and advice had taken place. There was nothing in her record to suggest she had a serious illness when I had seen her, but I immediately pondered what serious malady I had overlooked resulting in her suit against me.
As I began to study the pages, I noticed she had begun by suing a number of other entities, including a world famous medical center in another state along with several of the professionals practicing in that institution. Some of her complaints:
• A bedpan was “mishandled by a nurse, and a new corset was ruined…”
• The medical center “without conscience, ethics or professionalism, did permit the plaintiff to have her spirit raped, and thus her privacy violated.”
• The medical center was “conspiring for political power by attempting to find solutions to the Social Security System at any costs, did use tactics in their professional duty that would be disassociated with a reasonable man.”
• She “was met with harshness, pressure, harassment, a bribe, snobbery, misdiagnosis, poor therapy, and misprescribed (sic) medication…”
• The medical center “hurt the plaintiff’s reputation with a misdiagnosis by one brother in the physician ring.”
• An individual at the medical center was “striving for power at the expense of a human being, used unreasonable tactics to seek reform of the ailing Social Security System. The same person “was hoping to obtain a lead from the plaintiff’s subconscious mind on the ailing Social Security System that would make him look good to those in a higher command…”
• The plaintiff also believed that the United States Administration conspired “to violate the plaintiff’s rights in both times of a national emergency and in times when no emergency existed.”
There were a total of 71 counts in the plaintiff’s pleading. Relief requested for the counts ranged from $1 to $1,000,000. The count against me — I “did not void a medical release form after the plaintiff requested same from the defendant” and that I “secured the plaintiff’s signature on a class withdrawal form, and then hoped to make the new authorization equal too (sic) an outdated medical release form.” For this action she prayed for $1 “in damages for co-conspiracy and malpractice.”
The plaintiff filed this action in federal court in another state without apparent involvement of an attorney. The institution that employed me hired co-counsel in that state to represent me and a professor in my institution who was also being sued. I learned our suits were dropped because of an improper venue in the filing.
After reading all the complaints, especially the nebulous complaint against me I ceased to be concerned. But money was spent by my employer defending the charges against me and the professor. I assume the medical center in the other state had their in-house counsel represent them. Time and money was wasted in responding to what I consider to be frivolous complaints, although not perceived as such by the plaintiff.
Malpractice does occur and victims should be compensated, but the toll on providers cannot be measured in actual malpractice nor in cases where clearly no malpractice has occurred. In the many years since these events took place reform in malpractice litigation has taken place in state legislatures, but the challenge remains to sort the serious from the frivolous.
Jo Sweet of Johnson City is a semi-retired internal medicine physician who served as a captain in the Army Medical Corps.