Very often, physicians are blindsided by patient lawsuits. But while it is difficult to predict with accuracy which patients are likely to sue, a recent article from American Medical News offers insight on what legal experts say are some of the key warning signs a patient might be litigious.
For example, while research has shown that low-income patients are not more prone to suing doctors, take heed to the following warning signs:
1. Previous lawsuits against physicians
"You don't really know what the circumstances were and that patient may have had every reason to sue, but if it's happened more than once, that would concern me," Mark Horgan, senior vice president for claims at CRICO, a professional medical liability insurer in Massachusetts, told amednews. He recommended talking to a risk manager or insurance company before refusing a patient.
2. Personal relationships with doctors or attorneys
"That seems to enhance the risk," Horgan said. "You would think it would make for a more rational conversation after an event, but there are some occasions where clinicians are really critical of one another." According to a 2007 article from Oncology Times, 29 percent of malpractice litigants pursue legal action because of patient or family influence.
3. Poor health literacy
Patients who don't understand physicians' instructions or educational materials are also less equipped to manage their health and therefore more prone to bad outcomes, Oncology Times added. Patients often hide their lack of understanding of medical information because they are embarrassed, according to Roberta Carroll, senior vice president for Aon Healthcare, a risk-management and insurance brokerage firm headquartered in Chicago. She suggested teaching office staff to look for clues of a problem, such as registration forms that are incomplete or contain obvious errors.