Friday, March 7, 2014
The running joke of the Disney Monsters,Inc. movies is that there really are monsters in little kids' closets, but they aren't dangerous. Too often in medical education, lawyers and law suits are used as "monsters in the closet" to scare medical students into paying attention. This, I suggest, has become very expensive. A recent post in the Harvard Bill of Health blog by former medical student Deborah Cho quite accurately describes how little accurate information medical students get about the law--and how much they come to dislike and mistrust lawyers. Although I haven't seen research tracking how often the phrase "or you will get sued" is used in instructing medical students, but based on my experience it may be among the most common phrases they hear. Without even addressing the vast literature suggesting that postive instruction is at least as instructive as negative, I contend we just can't afford the malpractice bogeyman.
The question now is what can be done about? Tort Reform won't solve this problem--because it will never eliminate the possibility of being sued. But maybe a change in medical education will. The first step towards change is to realize that words and attitudes matter--drumming in a constant fear of being sued cannot help but affect how doctors see their work.