Universally, physicians feel the need to expend significant resources to prevent malpractice litigation (as opposed to the resources used to prevent malpractice). For those unfamiliar with the process, a medical malpractice lawsuit can be frightening. It seems to strike at one's very being and self-worth. Many physicians will respond with disbelief, then anger, and finally depression. The process of meetings, testimony, and eventually the trial can be dehumanizing. Physicians who succumb to the emotional trauma of a lawsuit respond in such a consistent manner that it has become known as malpractice stress syndrome (MSS).
The single factor most predictive of a dysfunctional response is the experience of isolation. Embarrassment and self-doubt can cause avoidance of one's very sources of support. Colleagues' responses may reinforce a physician's feeling of shame. Knowing the physician is busy preparing a defense, colleagues may change their referral and social patterns, which can be interpreted as judgment about the facts of the case.
Self-doubt frequently carries over to personal life. Either for reasons of not wanting to bring home the pain or from feelings of shame for getting named in a lawsuit, many physicians withdraw from their spouses and families, furthering their isolation.
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