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Medical errors more common among difficult patients

Arizona residents may believe that they have little control over whether or not they will be the victim of medical malpractice, but two studies have found that doctors make more mistakes when dealing with difficult or demanding patients. Medical safety experts have long been convinced that the chances of errors increase when patients badger or otherwise harass their physicians, and they now have empirical evidence to substantiate these beliefs. The research was published in a medical journal on March 7.

In the first of the studies, 63 physicians were tested during their last year of their training in family medicine. The doctors were asked to diagnose patients that had been sorted according to their demeanor. The doctors made mistakes about 6 percent more often when diagnosing difficult patients with straightforward conditions as opposed to so-called "neutral" patients, but the error rate shot up to 42 percent when the physicians were asked to diagnose more complex and challenging symptoms manifested by difficult patients as opposed to neutral ones. The second study focused on 74 doctors who were being trained in a hospital environment, and researchers once again noticed a higher rate of diagnostic mistakes among difficult patients.

It can be difficult to determine what makes an individual high maintenance, so researchers compiled a list of behaviors to help them identify the patients most likely to give their doctors problems. These behaviors included asking an excessive amount of questions, arguing or ignoring advice, questioning the qualifications or intelligence of their doctors and making an excessive number of demands.

The victims of doctor errors often suffer life-changing harm, but they may find that pursuing civil remedies can be a frustrating and challenging process. Doctors and medical malpractice insurance carriers usually have little problem finding witnesses who will deny that any wrongdoing occurred, but attorneys may call upon medical experts of their own to provide insight and establish that the care provided did not live up to the requisite standard.

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