What LeBron James Can Teach Us About Doctors Who Fear Getting Sued

LeBron James

Photo: AP Images

In their book, “Scorecasting,” Tobias Moskowitz and L. Wertheim examine the psychology of sports, including whether referees are biased against teams. Turns out they are when the team plays an away game. Sometimes the referee or umpire commits what’s called “whistle swallowing,” an omission bias that keeps the fans happy but comes at the expense of making a proper judgment call. 

It’s exactly what happened when LeBron James played the Thunders and pushed its centre into a cameraman, said Duke professor Peter A. Ubel in Psychology Today. James basically committed a foul, but the refs stayed silent and let LeBron win. 

The same thing happens when doctors fear being sued for malpractice, said Ubel. Rather than keep a patient in the dark, a physician might order a slew of procedures and tests to cover all his bases in the interest of showing the patient he’s doing his best.

But the fear of doing something rather than nothing, even if it’s not right, could be bad for our wallets. And it may not even make a difference. 

Per Ubel: “Isn’t it possible that your patient will sue you for chasing after imaginary shadows? What evidence is there that aggressive physicians—those who order lots of tests and procedures—are sued any less often than their more parsimonious colleagues?” 

That doctors are playing offence at a time when consumers are wary of rising medical costs makes sense. Beyond the irreparable damage to their career, a lawsuit can take several years to recover from financially. 

In May, one Orlando woman was actually sued for $49,000 by her plastic surgeon after she blasted him on RateMDs.com. Another study found 1 in 10 doctors would give a rosy prognosis to a patient for fear of being sued. 

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