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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Threatening to Sue is NOT the Answer

We are a fairly litigious society nowadays, and the threat of lawsuits in healthcare is very real. People's lives are on the line and healthcare professionals are entrusted to both make the quality of life better and cure or manage disease and injuries. This is not an easy task, and most providers and staff take this extremely seriously and are under a great deal of stress. In addition, every licensed professional is regulated by a board of governors in some respect (Nursing Boards, Boards of Medical Examiners, etc.).

When a patient threatens to sue a provider or staff over issues, typically the patient will be on the losing end. I'm not saying that malpractice does not happen, and I'm not saying that those patients don't deserve compensation for wrong-doings. What I am saying is that a great many people threaten to sue for the reason that they think they know better than the doctors. Doctors are not infallible, however their schooling, clinical training, and residency given them more knowledge than most laymen can find on the internet.

Threatening to sue professional healthcare providers for not prescribing the medication you want is a fool's errand. This is the most common issue I've heard for people threatening to sue, and frankly it makes no sense. There are multiple ways to manage pain, and recent evidence shows that opiates are not necessarily the best route for pain management. Some people will benefit from opiates, most would benefit more from exercise or physical therapy. Simply put, suing because you want pain medication will not get you the medication and damages your relationship with a provider that is trying to help you. Also, just because your old provider prescribed the medication does not mean that a new provider will. Providers practice differently and come at issues from different points of view. Threatening to sue your new provider because your old provider gave you medication is not the right answer.

I want to be clear that some lawsuits are warranted, and patients should not lose sight of the fact that some providers are not great.

The point I want to emphasize is to talk to your provider / healthcare team. Have the conversation and be prepared to accept a hard truth that the provider may know more than you, and be prepared also to ask for a second opinion if you feel that you're not getting the best care. Most providers are happy to refer you to another provider once you've at least tried their recommendation. Communication is the key to getting the best result. If your provider is unwilling to answer questions consider another provider.

Threatening to sue does not solve the problem, and typically will not get the result that the patient is looking for. Communication and courage when discussing your care with your healthcare team is the answer.

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