Malpractice trials can take emotional toll on doctors

Getting sued is a big fear of doctors, and for those who have faced a malpractice trial it can be an emotional ordeal.

And one that lasts. An obstetrician/gynecologist who won a lawsuit brought against her 21 years ago broke down in tears when she remembered the emotional distress she underwent, according to Medscape.

The result is that many doctors leave practice, retire early, practice defensive medicine and see patients as potential adversaries, Alan Woodward, M.D., past president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, told the publication.

Here are some takeaways from doctors who survived a malpractice trial:

Be prepared for an attack in the courtroom. "Expect the plaintiff's attorney to be merciless," said Thomas K. Wuest, M.D., an orthopedic trauma surgeon in Eugene, Oregon. You will have to listen in court while you are portrayed as a bad doctor.

Recognize that you may feel alone and isolated. Attorneys and insurers will advise you don’t discuss details of the case, as conversations could be discoverable. Rely on support from family and friends, said Chukwuemeka Onyewu, M.D., a plastic surgeon in Silver Spring, Maryland. It’s important to take care of yourself, by exercising and getting enough sleep, said one emergency room physician who endured a case that went on for almost seven years. 

Take advantage of programs that malpractice carriers may offer. For instance, The Doctors Company sponsors a weekend retreat for physicians facing malpractice cases and other carriers have similar programs to bring doctors together to share advice.