Medical malpractice litigation can cause extreme stress. The mental and emotional strain of negligence claims can have significant psychological effects on doctors' well-being, as well as impact the future care that is provided by them.
A confidential telephone survey, performed by the Journal of Patient Safety, administered to physicians with both open and closed claims from the previous year, explored symptoms, well-being changes, needs, impairments, and practice changes.
Of the 282 respondents, more than half reported a notable psychological reaction to the malpractice claim, especially if they were facing criminal proceedings.
The study has shown that when doctors are faced with a malpractice claim, they tend to change their behaviour and use more defensive medicine. Almost half of the respondents acknowledged practice changes: viewing patients as potential plaintiffs, paying more attention to record keeping, obtaining medicolegal training, ordering more tests, and avoiding specific kinds of patients or procedures.
The report also suggests that timely mental health referral paths could help mitigate the psychological impact of malpractice cases and consequently avoid the negative practice changes that might arise from them.
Our results confirm the psychological impact of a malpractice claim and that impacted physicians are more likely to change their care practices, involving defensive medicine practices. Therefore, care for physicians facing malpractice claims needs to be considered under the umbrella of health care quality. Timely mental health referral paths could help mitigate the psychological impact and avoid the pernicious effects of negative practice changes.