A couple of years ago, I wrote a post entitled "The Shame of Malpractice Lawsuits," in which I tried to evince some sympathy for how doctors feel when they are sued. I wrote about a friend, saying:
Even though she knew that she had done nothing wrong, my friend's main emotional response to the lawsuit was that she was ashamed. She did not want anyone to know about the case -- whether colleagues in the hospital or social friends. . . . As I talked to other doctors, I learned that this was a common reaction to such lawsuits. Another friend talked of the scars left from a case 20 years ago. He was found not to be at fault, but he could still vividly recall the weeks of shame he felt while the case proceeded.
There was a large response from readers but, in my mind, they sometimes missed the point. The post was simply to express empathy for the suffering felt by doctors who are accused of mistreating their patients.
Today, I learned about an approach being taken and Brigham and Women's Hospital that is meant to help address this in a simple and elegant fashion. There is a group of a dozen BWH doctors who have faced malpractice lawsuits during their career. When they learn that a fellow member of the staff has been served with a lawsuit, they simply write the person a letter saying that s/he should feel welcome to contact any of them to talk about how they feel. The idea is just to let the accused person know that there are others who have gone through the process who are there to help. Of course, they are careful never to talk about the merits of the case or other matters that would jeopardize its legal standing.
I think this is an excellent and thoughtful idea that could easily be copied by others and am pleased to share it for that purpose.