To paraphrase Bum Phillips, “There’s two kinds of doctors, them that’s been sued and them that’s gonna be sued.”
I’ve been sued more than once but they were all “non-suited” except one. When I was on the medical school faculty, the University paid a settlement on my behalf against my protestations (and the protestations of the 10 other doctors named in the suit). A septic diabetic with necrotizing fasciitis developed a pressure ulcer while he was hypotensive in the critical care unit. He sued the doctors who saved his life because he got a pressure ulcer. I can’t take any credit for saving this ungrateful patient’s life, because I never met him. The judge allowed me to be named in the suit after the statute of limitations had passed and despite the fact he wasn’t my patient. However, because I was the Medical Director of the Outpatient Wound Center, the plaintiff’s attorney argued that I was responsible for preventing pressure ulcers throughout the entire hospital and the judge went along. It seemed to me that the legal implications were terrifying if doctors who had no doctor-patient relationship could still be sued for malpractice. I believed my situation to be an anomaly. It wasn’t.
Recently, the state Supreme court of Minnesota ruled that a doctor can be sued for malpractice in the absence of a traditional physician-patient relationship, a decision which greatly expands physician liability. Allegations are that a physician refused to admit a patient to the hospital after a 10 minute phone call with the nurse practitioner caring for the patient, and a few days later, the patient died of sepsis. The family sued the physician who refused to admit the patient based on a phone call, the details of which are in dispute.
What if you could be sued for malpractice over a “curbside” consultation in which you simply gave advice to a colleague? Hopefully that won’t happen because the Supreme court stated in its written decision that their ruling did not refer to “informal advice from one medical professional to another,” but to “formal medical decision making.”
However, that makes me wonder there is liability for the medical directors of insurance plans? Could they be sued for denying coverage hyperbaric oxygen therapy to a patient if the outcome was bad? By the way, this is why, when the payer denies something, they always tell you, “we aren’t saying you can’t provide the treatment, only that we won’t PAY for it.”
Bum Phillips was right – this is about them that’s been sued, and them that is about to be.