What to Do
- Call your insurance carrier and begin the process of establishing a “claim.” They will speak with you about the case and find you an attorney. If you don’t know who your insurance carrier is or how to contact them, ask your employer (avoid revealing too much if they are a possible co-defendant with separate insurance). Your insurance carrier will advise you on your next steps and answer your questions.
- Obtain a lawyer you trust. If you have a particular attorney in mind, tell your insurer. Otherwise, the insurer will help you find one. Make sure an experienced partner is at least peripherally involved in overseeing your case.
- Get a book. There are numerous books on malpractice litigation written for doctors. Go online, read the reviews, buy one or more, and read them. You will find that this normalizes the experience, and it arms you with knowledge to lessen your anxiety.
- Talk about it. To reiterate, you should not face this alone. Confide in friends or family. If your hospital has a peer support group, utilize it. If you know someone who has been through litigation, call them. And if you have a history of substance use, talk to a confidante or sponsor as this is a very high-risk time for relapse. Please be proactive in getting extra support.
- Take care of yourself. Make time for yourself to decompress away from work and do your best to exercise, eat well, sleep, and spend time with meaningful people in your life. If it means saying no to extra duties at work, say no for now.
What Not to Do
- Do not access or alter the chart. With electronic charts, it’s easy to see who accessed the chart and when. Your lawyer will be obtaining all the relevant charts for you as part of the discovery phase (which I will discuss in a future column).
- Do not contact the plaintiff or their family. You may be tempted to speak with them in person. At this stage, do not directly contact them. Everything goes through the attorneys, no exceptions.
- Do not make any notes about the case that are not specifically addressed to your attorney. Your attorney or insurance carrier may ask you to write down everything you remember within their confidential “attorney-client privilege” bubble, but do not keep private notes.
- Do not despair. This is a long road, but it’s been well traveled by many excellent physicians. You may be angry because you feel you did everything right; you may be guilt-ridden, feeling you could have made different choices. In either case, many of us have been in your shoes, and these reactions are expected and justified. It’s time we told you so.