Doctor-Patient Communication and Medical Malpractice: An Ambiguous Relationship

Kenneth De Ville, PhD, JD
Arch Intern Med. 1995;155(5):543. doi:10.1001/archinte.1995.00430050123014.
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In their article entitled "The Doctor-Patient Relationship and Malpractice: Lessons From Plaintiffs' Depositions" Beckman et al1 offer an innovative empirical attempt to understand a vexing problem, too often viewed only through anecdote. The theories exploring the relationship between poor communication and the proclivity to sue are intriguing and certainly offer a viable, partial explanation of why only a relatively small percentage of injured patients pursue legal action.

However, the potential relationship between quality communication and the propensity to sue is subtle and the authors' approach to the problem, although valuable, may be flawed. The authors' fascinating use of plaintiffs' depositions is problematic. Plaintiffs' attorneys typically "woodshed" their clients to prepare them for the deposition encounter. In addition, retrospective studies of medical malpractice plaintiffs leave significant room for bias. Someone who is angry at a health professional or feels that he or she has been wronged or injured, may tend


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