Medical Malpractice: Trusting Doctors

A telephone survey conducted in 2010 of adults living in the United States found that about 70% of Americans trusted their doctor’s medical advice  to the extent that they would not seek a second opinion or do further research. A survey eight years earlier found that 64% of Americans felt the same way. More people 65 and over (85%) were confident in their doctor’s advice compared to 67% for those between the ages of 50 and 64. The percentage drops only slightly to 65% for people under the age of 50.

The educational level of those who were surveyed seemed to make little difference: 70% of those with a high school education or less were confident in their doctor’s advice compared to 72% of those who had some college education, 69% for those who were college graduates, and 71% for those who had formal education beyond college.

When it comes to honesty and ethics, 66% of Americans gave their doctors a high or very high rating for honesty and ethics (however, more Americans give nurses a high or very high rating for honesty and ethics – 81%). 

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So what’s the significance of the survey results when it comes to medical malpractice?

For one thing, victims of medical malpractice may be more hesitant to investigate claims against their doctors for their unnecessary injuries because they trust their doctor’s medical advice (even if their trust is violated) and they believe their doctors to be honest and ethical (even though their doctors may have lied to them regarding the cause of the bad outcome of their treatment — if you trust someone who then tells you that your injuries were caused by something other than medical negligence, you may be more willing to believe that person and not obtain a second opinion as to the cause of your injuries).

The necessary trust factor between patients and their doctors gets stronger as people age because they must rely more and more on their doctor’s advice and because there is a strong psychological tendency to believe that doctors will do their best to help (and not hurt) their patients.  This is why jurors deciding medical malpractice cases may act consistent with their own biases in favor of doctors even when the evidence of medical negligence is strong (examples of strongly held beliefs that may influence the jurors’ decision-making process:  “the defendant doctor was trying his best under difficult circumstances,” “the doctor used his best judgment at the time and who are we to second-guess the treating doctor,” “the patient might have been even worse off had the doctor not done what he did, even if the doctor’s treatment was not adequate,” etc.)

Doctors who are sued for medical malpractice often use these widely-held biases in their favor to their advantage by insisting that they advised their patients regarding treatment options or other matters that the standard of care required them to discuss with their patients before beginning treatment, often pointing to entries in their self-serving medical records that they wrote themselves as proof that they discussed important matters with their patients, even though their patients adamantly and passionately testify during trial that they were not advised of their options or the risks of treatment that were known by their doctors but not discussed with them, and had they been told of such by their doctors, they would have chosen another medical option. This is not to say that the doctors are lying, it just means that the biases in favor of doctors work to their advantage when there is a discrepancy in what the parties to a medical malpractice lawsuit allege (many jurors firmly believe that if something is stated in a written medical record, it is an unquestionable fact).

Because doctors and the medical profession in general are held in such high esteem by many American adults, it is sometimes difficult for medical malpractice victims to receive a fair, impartial, and unbiased trial of their claims by a jury even though the jurors themselves may not realize that their biases and beliefs are affecting their decisions.

If you or a family member become the victim of medical malpractice, it is important that you seek appropriate legal advice regarding your rights and your claim. Our website can help put you in touch with medical malpractice lawyers in your area who may be able to assist you with your medical malpractice claim. You may also reach us on our toll free number 800-295-3959.

Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.

This entry was posted on Saturday, August 13th, 2011 at 12:51 pm. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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