The poor, in fact, are less likely to sue their doctor

Joan Robinson
EurekAlert

Study sheds light on why physicians mistakenly believe that poor people sue more often

Contrary to the common perception among physicians that poor people sue doctors more frequently, Ramon L. Jimenez from the Monterey Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Institute and his team demonstrate that socioeconomically disadvantaged patients, in fact, tend to sue physicians less often. Their work suggests that this myth may exist because of subconscious prejudices or stereotypes that affect thinking and decision making without doctors being aware of it – a phenomenon known as unconscious bias. Dr. Jimenez and his colleagues’ work is published online in Springer’s journal, Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research.

Some physicians believe that, as a group, low-income patients tend to sue their doctors more often than other patients. This mindset has potential negative effects on the doctor-patient relationship, including some physicians’ reluctance to treat poor patients, or treat such patients differently from other patient groups in medical care terms.

Jimenez and team reviewed medical and social studies looking at the differences in litigation rates, and related medical malpractice claims, among socioeconomically disadvantaged patients compared with other groups of patients. Their analyses show that, in reality, low-income patients actually sue their doctors less often than other patient groups, in part because of a more limited access to legal resources and a payment system in medical malpractice claims which requires an advance on funds to litigate the case.

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