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

February 27, 2012, Springer

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 has potential negative effects on the doctor-patient relationship, including some physicians' reluctance to treat poor patients, or treat such patients differently from other 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 which requires an advance on funds to litigate the case.

The authors also highlight how physicians may have an unconscious desire to avoid treating poor patients out of concerns about financial reimbursement. Such physicians might consciously or unconsciously presume poor patients are more likely to sue, as an excuse or way of avoiding the presumed difficulty associated with collecting payment from such patients. In this situation, the doctor's can trick him or her into behaving in an undesirable way - a process known as unconscious bias.

The researchers also argue that culturally competent care, promoted by the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons Diversity Advisory Board, is an effective means to overcome unconscious bias. For example, many patients perceive that they are not treated appropriately, or with respect, because of inadvertent mistakes made by providers who are not familiar with their culture. They can, as a result, turn away from the healthcare system, resulting in disparities in care.

Jimenez concludes: "Helping doctors to become more culturally competent i.e. able to treat or relate better to a patient from a different race, ethnicity, sex, socio-economic status or sexual orientation, may help overcome these misperceptions. In addition, improving education and training for the delivery of culturally competent care, and empowering patients to play more meaningful roles in their healthcare decisions are proven strategies that can positively impact health disparities, the quality of medical care, physician satisfaction, and the incidence of medical malpractice litigation."

Explore further: Looking for the roots of racial bias in delivery of health care

More information: McClellan FM, White III AA, Jimenez RL, Fahmy S (2012). Do poor people sue doctors more frequently? Confronting unconscious bias and the role of cultural competency. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research. DOI 10.1007/s11999-012-2254-2

Related Stories

Looking for the roots of racial bias in delivery of health care

September 6, 2011
Johns Hopkins study suggests medical students may "learn" to treat nonwhite patients differently than white patients

Recommended for you

Women run faster after taking newly developed supplement, study finds

January 19, 2018
A new study found that women who took a specially prepared blend of minerals and nutrients for a month saw their 3-mile run times drop by almost a minute.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.