As is often the case, perception and reality, when associated with a given set of circumstances, have no common ground. This appears to be especially true when applied to medical negligence litigation. The physician’s perception of the problem differs from that of the attorney and most certainly differs from that of the patient.
No patient enters into a physician–patient relationship with thoughts of future litigation. There is a condition that is a problem or a perceived problem that warrants medical care and attention. The patient is seeking care from a professional in whom he will place his trust, even if there has been no past relationship. The need for care is present, and the trust is given. However, not all patients enter into the relationship blindly, and some assert their right to question decisions, especially as problems and levels of anxiety rise. The responses that the patient receives from the physician often determine the ensuing events.
The patient and often family enter into the relationship with a level of anxiety independent of the level of education, the nature of the problem, and prior information that has been obtained or given. Notwithstanding the amount of research the patient and family have done or the amount of information that they have received from prior practitioners, the patient and family want answers and have questions. This need for information will compete with the amount of time that the physician has available or wants to give to the situation, and the resolution should be patient dependent. A patient with a cataract to be removed might demand an hour of time to obtain an explanation and then come back with additional questions. Another patient with glaucoma might require 15 minutes for an explanation, although an hour has been set aside. Indeed, the situation might be reversed. However, if the patient demanding an hour is only given 15 minutes, the seeds of discontent may have been sown. Each patient has to be treated individually, but consideration must be given to individual differences and needs and they cannot be dismissed casually.
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