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How spending extra time with patients reduces the likelihood of getting sued: Lessons from Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink”

By August 26, 2014September 10th, 2021Michael's Operatory

I was reading something interesting in Malcolm Gladwell’s seminal book “Blink” and thought I should share.  The book itself deals with how we make decisions using our intuition and emotions in a very short period of time (in the ‘blink of an eye’ so to speak).

I came across a chapter dealing with the following: what if you worked for an insurance company and were charged with determining which doctors are more likely to be sued for malpractice.  You now have two choices: you can either examine the physician’s training and credentials and analyze their records to see how many errors they’ve made over the past few years OR you can simply listen in on very brief snippets of conversation between each doctor and their patients.

Here’s the kicker: the risk of being sued has nothing to do with how many mistakes a doctor makes, but rather whether the doctor was likeable or not.  That’s right: analyses of lawsuits showed that plaintiff patients didn’t necessarily sue because of shoddy medical care, but because they didn’t like the doctor.  Interestingly enough, the book talks about medical researcher Wendy Levinson’s finding that surgeons who had never been sued spent more than three (3) minutes longer with each patient than those surgeons who had been sued did (18.3 minutes vs. 15 minutes): p.41 of Blink.

Moral of the story: as Fred Joyal often points out, “Patients don’t care how much you know until you show them how much you care”.  And taking the time to show patients how much you care is very important.  Indeed, it can prevent a malpractice suit!  So arrive on time for your appointments, spend extra time with patients who need it, answer their questions, be respectful, don’t be dominant in your communications, and you’ll help avoid getting sued!