Doctors are people. Just like the rest of us. They have specialized training, and a skill set many of us do not have, but like all of us – they are human.
And, it is (in my experience and opinion) human nature to want to help your patients with information, but at the same time, hesitate to help that same patient in the court room with specific opinions that criticize other healthcare providers’ care or treatment.
It is often that a client will tell us – “The doctor who saw me in the emergency room said to me, it was too late to treat me for my heart condition, if only I had been referred to him months earlier he could have helped.”
While investigating the case, I often contact that doctor and say – “Doctor, do you recall Mr. Patient? And do you recall telling him that if you had been able to treat him three months earlier, he could have had a different outcome?”
Occasionally – they will be strong enough to tell both a patient, and a lawyer the same opinion, but not always. And I get it. I really get it. It is hard for a physician to say another physician dropped the ball, or screwed up, or worse. But don’t we live in a society where we prize accountability? Both public and among our peers? If someone is damaging our business, our reputation, our profession, why not stand up and say their behavior wasn’t right? Well – because we are human, and sometimes as humans we feel uncomfortable speaking openly and honestly about the truth, about justice, about right and wrong.
So when a doctor tells you something that you take to mean a criticism of someone else’s care – ask follow up questions:
1. What would you have done?
2. Would my outcome have changed?
3. Do you feel I am at a disadvantage now?
4. Can anything be done to put me back on track?
5. Will you help me look into this further?
6. Will you help me investigate this?
Direct questions are good. It also makes it more likely your physician will be willing to help should your case require similar answers in the future.
Don’t be afraid to ask follow up questions, or, to stand up for a patient when it’s the right thing to do.