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Defending Your Reputation as a Doctor

I have linked the article above because it’s somewhat relevant to this post. You can read it first or read the summary below. It’s about a guy who successfully defended his reputation as a doctor against a hospital group.

The lengthy saga involved a CT surgeon who went toe-to-toe against his Hospital Group to defend his reputation. He was falsely accused by the hospital for having a high patient mortality rate. This accusation timely arose after he threatened to move his practice due to poor hospital conditions.

This doctor eventually was awarded $6m but because this case went all the way to the Texas supreme court, you can imagine the time and money it took to get there.

Even though this doctor didn’t lose his job during this ordeal, he certainly lost many sleepless nights. The stress also likely made his work harder which put him at more risk.

The accusation, regardless of the payout, will always be with him. He’ll have to report it and carry it wherever he goes in the future.

Doctor’s Reputation

As the article points out, the reputation of the physician is as important as the medical license they have. Without it, you might as well not be licensed.

What stood out to me is how easily a hospital group can ruin the reputation of a doctor. And how hard and arduous it is for that doctor to defend their reputation.

This physician had to hire his own lawyers, his own investigators, had to subpoena records, appear the case, and prove that the accusation of the mortality rates were false. That’s not easy. It could have gone either way.

And it’s far from over, the hospital likely will appeal this jury award. I doubt he’ll be done with this drama anytime soon.

Most doctors would likely lose employment during such a process. Where do you then get the money to pay the law firm to keep fighting on your behalf?

You, as a clinician, are only as good as what the medical boards and courts have published about you. The way our profession is structured right now, with a quick stroke everything we’ve accomplished can be tarnished.

Patients will then only see the accusations brought upon you. And, unfortunately, your colleagues will believe the same, even they won’t admit to it in polite company.

Fighting for Our Reputation

Unfortunately, this story hit a little close to home. I was reported to the medical board by my employer, Kaiser Permanente.

And when my lawyer and I contacted KP’s legal department before the medical board hearing, we were assured that my employment record with them was spotless – as it should have been.

Come to find out during the hearing before the medical board members that KP had made up all sorts of lies about me; how I was not showing up to work (no call, no show); that I was a “poor performing” physician.

By the time this information was released it was too late. I got my medical license suspended for 30 days by the medical board. My only recourse was to sue Kaiser Permanente.

Going after KP would require a larger legal team and I would have to pay for everything myself. It would have been just shy of $200k to go after KP, without a guaranteed outcome.

Being on guard to fight my reputation as a physician is not acceptable. And it’s not acceptable for a mid-tier accusation to ruin my career as a physician.

Fighting Back

From a more optimistic perspective, sure, it sucks to have to be on guard but this shouldn’t paralyze us. I won’t let someone else steal my joy in life, if I can help it.

I don’t want to let the medical board or a powerful medical group scare me into submission. Yes, for the time being they have the power to make my life hell. But even the most vindictive medical board will have to move on to the next victim.

On the positive side, we do have ways of fighting back, which is exactly what this doctor did. I can only imagine what a nightmare it must have been for him.

Sources of Accusation

It’s important to recognize that all it takes is an accusation to turn your life upside down. And where are the sources of such accusations?

  • patients
  • employers
  • competing colleagues
  • your staff
  • your partner (their lawyer)
  • the medical board

I had no clue that a report to the medical board could do anything to my career. I assumed that it would have had to be something egregious to even make a visible dent.

Now, I’m aware of the various sources from which an accusation could arise. In this doctor’s case, it came from his disgruntled employer who retaliated against him for pointing out how bad patient care was at that hospital.

As clinicians we spend a lot of time polishing the medical chart of patients, preparing ourselves to take the stand. Hopefully such posts will highlight that it’s also good to keep other sources on our radar.

Confirmation Bias

It’s rather normal for someone like myself to look for stories like this online and then republish on my website. I’m feeding into my belief that the medical system is rather unjust.

Therefore, it’s only fair that I take the opposite side of the argument as well. As in, there are plenty of just things about the medical profession and that it does function on many different levels.

Stacked Odds

The statistics aren’t pretty; the majority of physicians will be sued in their lifetime for malpractice. Quite a few of us will be caught up in fraud cases and/or deal with medical board investigations.

But, despite how much bullshit we deal with, there is always a way to practice medicine. It’s just that most of us didn’t think we’d have to work so hard to figure this out for ourselves.

Exit Strategy

I want to be pragmatic as a dissenting voice for my profession. I don’t want to paint the profession with a dark brush and I don’t want to romanticize it.

If you have any joy left when seeing a patient in your office, it’s worthwhile to pursue an ideal medical career for yourself. How that will look is anyone’s guess until you exhaust all of your options.

However, in the meantime I believe it’s safe and wise to have an exit strategy. This is the advice given to anyone who starts a business or has a sizeable investment in the markets: have an exit strategy, just in case.

I believe that many of us can get to a place in our careers where we don’t have to fear any accusations. Having to defend your reputation as a doctor won’t be a priority any longer.

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