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How to Get Sued

John-Henry Pfifferling, PhD
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As director of the Center for Professional Well-Being, applied medical anthropologist John-Henry Pfifferling, PhD, specializes in occupational stress coaching, crisis counseling and prevention training for physicians. Heed these ‘tips’ at your own risk!

In the course of his work as Director of the Center for Professional Well-Being and Clinical Associate Professor, University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, NC, John-Henry Pfifferling has learned a lot about physicians whose self-defeating behavior hurts their relationships with patients, staff, professional peers, and likely the people they care about most.

He has been featured previously in Skin & Aging — "Avoiding Autocannibalistic Behavior"   — and will periodically offer some of his insights in our online magazine.
Here are his tongue-in-cheek guidelines for those who have so much money and time and so little stress and excitement that they would welcome a lawsuit.

• Treat people with a propensity for financial greed and give them an incentive to sue.
• Ignore complications; don’t pursue or refer — just hope they will go away.
• Spend minimal or no time making sure patients understand the likely outcome of a procedure, including a bad outcome.
• Don’t confer with a colleague or listen to your g.u.t. — gastro-intestinal early warning triage — when it warns of a high-risk
• Don’t bother to recognize or mention that financial loss due to downtime can accrue as a result of treatment or the recovery process.
• Make sure to inflate, then disregard, promises to patients — especially those with a poly-surgical history.
• Discharge patients in the middle of treatment that has gone badly, and fail to recommend help; and don’t even think about attending risk management lectures on abandonment.
• Don't stress about delayed or missed diagnoses; just assume they can be chalked up to the ambiguity of medical practice.

Suggested Reading

Andrew LB, Pfifferling J-H. Managing medical malpractice stress. In, Nasca, et al, eds. Medical Malpractice: How to Prevent and Survive a Suit. Brooklandville, MD: Data Trace Publishing; 2005: chap 25.