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What is 'medical malpractice stress syndrome?'

Many people may be surprised to learn that in the medical profession there's a recognized condition called "medical malpractice stress syndrome." It's when the stress of malpractice litigation affects a doctor's physical and/or emotional health.

The reason that as patients we should be concerned about MMSS is that it can also impact a doctor's work. Since over three-quarters of doctors in low-risk specialties and about 99 percent of those in high-risk specialties, including surgeons, are sued by the time they reach 65, there's a good chance that most of us have seen a doctor at some time who was suffering from MMSS.

Most medical malpractice litigation can last anywhere from one to four years. Therefore, if a doctor isn't effectively managing the stress caused by that litigation, he or she can be at greater risk for serious and potentially fatal medical negligence and errors. Even some doctors who are the subject of an investigation or complaint, without a lawsuit, can experience MMSS. Any attack on their ability as a physician can be harmful to their sense of integrity.

Among the physical symptoms associated with MMSS are decreased concentration and fatigue. Doctors can also experience emotional issues including guilt, depression, tension and anger. All of these things can impact the decision-making process which is such an essential part of a physician's job. When doctors internalize all of the negative feelings that result from a malpractice suit, they can begin second-guessing themselves, which can harm their ability to care for their patients.

Patients may be unaware that their physician is dealing with a malpractice suit or anything else that may be causing a significant amount of stress. However, if you don't feel that your doctor is listening to you or that his or her attention is elsewhere, it's essential to confirm that you're being understood and that you understand what your doctor is telling you. Don't hesitate to ask as many questions as you need to clarify instructions and information your doctor gives you. If your doctor's lack of focus seems to be an ongoing issue, it may be in your best interest to seek out another physician.

Source: KevinMD.com, "4 keys to manage medical malpractice stress syndrome," Dianne Ansari-Winn, MD, MPH, accessed Oct. 18, 2016

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