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Wrap-around Services Surround Physicians Facing Litigation

No matter how experienced, skilled, and well-loved a physician may be, the fear of being involved in medical-negligence litigation never truly goes away—and with good reason. According to a 2016 report by the American Medical Association (AMA), nearly half of physicians aged 55 and older have been sued. 

The good news is that most malpractice claims do not prevail. In 2015, for example, 68% of closed claims in the AMA report were dropped, dismissed, or withdrawn. Of the 7% of claims decided by a trial verdict, the defendants won 88%. In fact, Physicians Insurance’s own recent public trial record shows a 94% success rate. 

Regardless of the outcome, a malpractice claim is uniquely stressful for physicians, even if it doesn’t result in a lawsuit getting to the courtroom. This is so much the case that the term “medical malpractice stress syndrome” has recently been unofficially coined to describe a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Neurosurgery reported that approximately a quarter of physicians who reported having experienced a lawsuit described it as the most stressful event of their lives.

At Physicians Insurance, we offer comprehensive services to protect members from the potentially devastating effects of medical-negligence litigation. No matter what the claim or its merit, any litigation can create a heavy burden on physicians, and we are here to help, with support that extends far beyond claim management and legal representation.

Assembling an expert team
“As soon as claims representatives receive notification of a lawsuit, they assemble a team tailored to the physician’s circumstances and needs,” says Nancy Pugh, director of litigation management at Physicians Insurance. “Every provider is different—some don’t want to be involved in the details unless they absolutely have to be, and others are more hands-on. We tailor our services to their preferences and expectations, with a high priority on open communication.”

The claims representative leads and coordinates the team, which may include:

  • Defense lawyers whose firms specialize in medical malpractice and have worked with Physicians Insurance for many years
  • Expert witnesses who bring a deep knowledge of the physician’s specialty
  • Trial consultants who help the physician prepare for depositions and trial testimony
  • Jury consultants who offer insight into jury behavior and perceptions
  • A litigation-support psychiatrist who can provide the physician with ongoing mental health services
  • A professional peer who has experienced a lawsuit and can encourage and empathize with the physician throughout the process
  • Our Claims and Policyholder Committee, which comprises physicians from many specialties. In select situations, these physicians review the care provided.

This type of wrap-around support is essential, Pugh says. “When physicians face litigation, their work is dissected and criticized, often unfairly,” she says. “The process can drag on for years, and no matter the outcome, they may experience feelings of guilt, shame, and anger that are very difficult to endure. We want to fully support physicians, thoroughly prepare them for the challenges ahead, and make sure they never feel alone.” 

The claims representative serves as a physician’s “go-to” person throughout the litigation process. These individuals study every nuance of the case and help the legal team strategize as the lawsuit heads toward a settlement or trial. Pugh estimates that each claims representative spends about 60 hours a year studying evolving trends in healthcare law, legislation in various states and emerging medical procedures—on top of the medical research they do to support physician clients. 

Easing the burden on physicians
Expert knowledge is just one expectation for claims representatives at Physicians Insurance. Another key to their success: high levels of emotional intelligence and compassion. “Physicians facing litigation understandably feel that everything is on the line—professionally and personally,” Pugh says. “Our claims representatives want to take the burden off their shoulders as much as possible. We don’t want them to be so distracted by litigation that they can’t care for their next patient or go home and be present with their families.”

And even a favorable verdict doesn’t always protect physicians from long-lasting ill effects. Those with medical malpractice stress syndrome may continue to experience feelings of isolation, negative self-image, helplessness, hopelessness, and depression. Continuing to see the litigation-support psychiatrist after the case ends can help with the healing process. 

“One of the worst outcomes of medical-malpractice litigation is when we see good, caring physicians get burned out and leave medicine,” Pugh says. “If Physicians Insurance can keep that from happening to our members, that’s the true victory.”

To support members facing litigation, Physicians Insurance offers a 24-page Litigation Guide for the Defendant Physician, a valuable resource to help policyholders understand the medical-malpractice litigation process. It covers topics such as working with your defense team, the law regarding malpractice, and coping with stress.