Every day, physicians and surgeons walk a tightrope

A story from New York reminds us of what a delicate balance doctors must maintain. The state has suspended the license of an internist who has practiced medicine for more than 20 years. The reason? She ordered unnecessary tests and treatments.

The doctor offered no explanation. She reportedly told the state's office for Professional Misconduct and Physician Discipline that she could not successfully defend herself against the charges. She must complete a clinical competency assessment before the state considers allowing her to practice again.

Even if she meets that condition, her practice will be limited to patients whose care is not paid for by the no-fault or workers' compensation insurance. In addition, her work will be monitored by another physician during a three-year probationary period.

Again, there is no explanation for her actions, but this is not an unfamiliar issue for doctors everywhere, including right here at home.

When the American Tort Reform Foundation put Philadelphia on the judicial hellhole "watch list" this year, medical practitioners were likely not surprised. The ATRF report says the city has "long been known for excessive verdicts." Many physicians and surgeons opt for more tests, more treatments just to avoid a malpractice lawsuit that could cost them millions.

Doctors must also deal with patients' increasing demands for the latest treatment, for diagnostic tests with cutting-edge technology. Medical consumers are more sophisticated and have grown used to the constant stream of upgrades to personal and office technology. They expect and demand the same of their physicians, but a physician must manage those expectations carefully knowing all the while that the Sword of Damocles of litigation and accusations of incompetence hover above their heads.

Faced with a choice between suspension, even revocation of your medical license and the financial and emotional upheaval of a malpractice claim, what would you do?

Source: The Journal News, "New City doc sanctioned for unnecessary tests," Jane Lerner, Dec. 12, 2014

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