When Doctors Sue Patients? Malpatient?

What a crazy world we live in!  The Boston Globe, Sunday March 31,2013 had a front page article by Liz Kowalczyk, called  “Doctors Firing Back at Patients’ Online Critiques.”  It is the story of a patient’s spouse who blogged about a doctor and stated the person was not compassionate.

Since the Boston Globe doesn’t let you read the paper on line unless you subscribe, here is a link to an abbreviated recap of the story. http://www.boston.com/whitecoatnotes/2013/04/01/clipboard-readers-respond-suit-filed-against-man-who-complained-online-about-wife-doctor/uX2UOO9spfHqohbUcdFhrL/story.html

When I saw the headline on Sunday, it really caught my eye.  Why would a doctor sue a patient for $100,000?  Before I read it, I tried to imagine what it could be.  Had the patient not paid their bill?  Had they not showed up for surgery.  Had they been late for an appointment?

What a surprise to find out it was because he had called her not compassionate on his blog.  The doctor felt by having this statement on line, her reputation was sullied.  Really?  Exactly how has your reputation been damaged?  Are your numbers decreased?  As mentioned in Dr. Kevin Pho’s blog, http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2013/04/doctors-online-reputation-survived-front-page-newspaper-story.html , it doesn’t seem to have.

This has to be reverse malpractice.  I guess we can call it malpatient.  Having a personal opinion about a medical professional is acceptable as long as it is not stated on line.   Isn’t there an issue  of free speech?  The comment was based on a personal experience.   How can you sue someone for their  feelings?  He didn’t say she was the devil or wished her ill.  He said, she didn’t respect his feelings.

I am surprised that the doctor is making this personal.  Is it her wish for the patient to state she is compassionate?  If she were to win, can I then sue a doctor for not being compassionate? An example might be delivering bad news abruptly and without warning? Or not returning my calls?  Or how about keeping me waiting for my appointment?

I believe this case speaks to not just  free speech  but the need to reexamine the patient/doctor relationship.  The empowered patient movement has been pushing for a shift to a partnership between patient and doctor.  There is a need for balance in the relationship and an understanding of what is realistic.  Do we as patients have the right to expect the medical profession to be understanding, kind and compassionate?  I’d like to think so but it just doesn’t work out that way.

Many medical professionals don’t understand the impact they have on patients.  Patient expectations often are skewed by  blinded trust and faith in the provider to find a soltion to their health problems.  It is personal for the patient, while for the doctor, it is professional with clear boundaries.

The learning curve on how to deal with patients expectations and emotions is  taught on the job through years of experience, not in school.  Patients teach medical professionals how to best interact beyond clinical data.  I read many doctor’s blogs that speak to what they have learned from their patients. Learning how to  tell someone of a terminal diagnosis is an acquired skill.  Many doctors and nurses after years of years, are still not very good at it.

The bottom line is, compassion, understanding and kindness are difficult to teach.You can’t legislate or mandate it.  We can only hope that soemwhere along life’s journey the person has learned the lesson.   I was lucky enough to learn some of these qualities from my father.  I would observe him from a young age, helping people and listening to their problems.  Walk in their shoes for a day, he would say to me, and maybe you will understand the suffering.

But don’t sue a patient because he/she was hoping for some compassion or understanding.  This lawsuit is unecessary and should thrown out of the courts.  I hope the Globe covers that story when it happens.