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Ten Strategies for Coping with a Malpractice Lawsuit

Approximately 60% of physicians in the US will be sued for malpractice, research and statistics have found.

Approximately 60% of physicians in the US will be sued for malpractice, research and statistics have found. In an article published online in The Permanente Journal, Dr. Audrey Sheridan, offered 10 strategies for surviving a malpractice lawsuit — strategies she developed from experience.

1.Resist isolation. Physicians should not be ashamed to look for help. While attorneys will recommend discussing the case with no one, attorneys can also direct physicians to safe places to vent (e.g., therapists). Protected conversations vary from state-to-state, so physicians should consult their attorneys.

2.Draw on strengths. Dr. Sheridan reminds physicians that they have survived many obstacles — medical school, residency, etc. – and she encourages them to use the tools they have developed in the past.

3.Reject negative thought processes. Rather than locking into a negative though process, Dr. Sheridan recommends physicians think positive thoughts. A link in the article to a gratitude exercise may help.

4.Exercise self-care. Physicians should schedule time to relax, exercise, eat right, and ensure they are getting enough sleep each night.

5.Take a break. Rather than constantly criticizing themselves (or others), physicians should treat themselves the way they would a friend, a work colleague, or a family member.

6.Set priorities. Physicians should become involved in activities that engage them and distract them from the lawsuit.

7.Approach law as a foreign culture. Physicians may be surprised that the legal world moves at a much different pace than the medical world. Dr. Sheridan suggests that physicians work closely with their attorneys and ask for explanations when a process is new or a concept unclear.

8.Regain perspective. Physicians should use some perspective; the lawsuit feels big, but it will end and insurance should cover most of the financial cost.

9.Use distraction. There are multiple ways to distract one’s brain—audiobooks, guided meditation, phone calls with friends, etc. Physicians should find distractions that divert their attention.

10.Find serenity and wisdom. Dr. Sheridan recommends physicians adopt this mantra during the lawsuit: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.