Doctors can be traumatized by litigation

August 23, 2011

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RE “OVER career, most doctors in US will face lawsuit’’ (Page A1, Aug. 18): In highlighting the likelihood that a doctor will be sued in his or her career, we shouldn’t miss the extent of the psychological trauma for these individuals, and the impact this has on their careers.

As a psychiatrist who supports physicians through malpractice litigation, I have witnessed how the initiation of a lawsuit on people who have committed themselves, often at tremendous financial and emotional cost, to what is now a grueling and demanding profession is demoralizing and emotionally taxing. More often than not, it may be motivated by a patient’s wish to get compensated for a very unfortunate outcome, often beyond the capacity of the medical system to prevent.

Doctors accused of “intentional harm’’ through a malpractice lawsuit feel shamed, isolated, and terrified. They come to view subsequent patients - individuals whom they are deeply committed to help - as potential adversaries.

The study your article cites helps us understand the urgent need to support our health care providers so that they can continue in their commitment to our health and well being.

Dr. Kenneth M. Settel, Brookline
The writer is a clinical instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.