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Medical Malpractice lawsuit = shoddy medical care + something else

A while back I read Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell.  The book takes a look at snap judgments, the decisions we make in the “blink” of an eye. It also compares snap decisions with slow analytical decision making.  He opens with a discussion about a certain sculpture. All the evidence, such as testing the material, shows that the sculpture is authentic. This is contrasted to a group of experts who immediately thought something was wrong with the sculpture and questioned its authenticity.  They couldn’t put their finger on it, but something didn’t seem right.  The first word that popped into the mind of one of the experts was “fresh.”

So, were the people making snap judgments about the statue’s authenticity correct? They were indeed. After a year of testing, it was determined that the sculpture was in fact a fake.

Besides being a good storyteller, Gladwell discusses the likelihood of a doctor getting sued for medical malpractice. He gives the example of you, the reader, working for a medical malpractice insurance company. You’re given two choices to decide how prone a doctor is to committing medical malpractice. Do you examine the doctor’s training and previous records to see how many errors he or she has committed over the last few years? Or, do you listen in on a brief conversation between the doctor and a patient?

According to Gladwell, listening in on the doctor/client interaction is a much more accurate way to determine the likelihood of getting sued than where the doctor went to school and how error prone he or she is.

Close analysis of malpractice lawsuits shows that there are highly skilled doctors who get sued a lot while doctors who make plenty of mistakes may never get sued at all.  At the same time, the overwhelming number of people who suffer an injury due to the negligence of a doctor never file a malpractice suit.  In other words, patients don’t file lawsuits simply because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care. Patients file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care and “something else” happens to them.

Gladwell states that the “something else” is the human interaction element. How was the patient treated on a personal level? Basically, it comes down to this: people don’t sue doctors they like.