A bad experience with a doctor can range anywhere from an uncaring, abrupt attitude to outright negligence that might cause physical harm or even death. Not every doctor seems to have as a priority, “first, do no harm,” nor has necessarily passed “bedside manner 101” with Dr. Marcus Welby as mentor. There are several things you can do as a patient who feels a medical authority has done wrong.
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Respond to the experience at a level comparable to the problem. Handle a cold manner by a competent physician with an immediate response of “I don’t appreciate being treated like that” to the doctor while she is present in the room. You can then vote with your feet, tell your friends or even write a letter to the local newspaper editor. A graded, specific, local response may be most effective and may even reveal that the doctor was just having a difficult day.
Make a more official response if the treatment you received merits it. Worse than poor attitude are ineptness, wrong diagnoses or harmful practices. A more official response takes more effort and may require some documentation, such as copies of records, prescriptions or billing. If you feel the treatment merits that level of response, alerting the state medical board, American Medical Association and your health insurance carrier may carry more weight. This kind of complaint tends to take longer, must be cumulative (where other patients need to follow through for an effective disciplinary action to take place) and you may never see any visible result of your complaint.
Take legal action as a last resort. Your lawyer will be able to advise whether your complaint is actionable and what course to take. Where other actions don’t compensate you for mistakes your doctor makes, compensation is normally part of a legal proceeding. A lawyer with a history of favorable decisions with malpractice suits may take your case for about a one-third settlement payment rather than charging you a fee up front if the lawyer thinks your case is winnable.
Make your opinion known on Internet sites like Rate MDs (see Resources). Others who have a question or complaint about a doctor will be helped and your responses have a cumulative impact. And just to be even-handed, an especially good doctor can be rated and approved so others know about the good doctors as well.