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Low-Income Patients Miss Out on Malpractice Claims

Californians who believe they have been harmed by a physician's errors can seek compensation through filing a medical malpractice claim. Unfortunately, some injured patients tend not to exercise this right and may never be compensated for what happened to them. A recent study has revealed that low-income people in particular are less likely to sue their doctors than patients in other income groups.

Researchers from the Monterey Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Institute have noted that people with lower incomes face obstacles in seeking justice for the harm done to them by medical malpractice. They may not have ready access to a familiar attorney because the legal aid services and public defenders who typically help low-income clients do not handle medical malpractice lawsuits. Also, someone with minimal financial reserves may find it difficult to come up with the money to initiate a malpractice case, even with the hope of eventually recovering money through the lawsuit.

The study pointed out that doctors mistakenly tend to believe that poor people are more likely to sue them. The researchers found that this common misconception arises from an unconscious bias many doctors have against low-income patients. Some doctors even avoid treating low-income people, claiming that they feel more vulnerable to being sued by patients in this group.

The researchers suggest that doctors ought to become more culturally sensitive. Learning to interact effectively with people from many different backgrounds, including different races, ethnic groups and income levels, would help doctors recognize and deal with their unconscious biases. Medical care for low-income people would improve as a result, and doctors would not likely see the increase in lawsuits many of them fear.

Source: Science Daily, "The Poor, in Fact, Are Less Likely to Sue Their Doctor," Feb. 28, 2012.

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