by Ted J. Clarke, MD, Chairman & CEO, COPIC Insurance Company
Featured in the May/June 2016 Colorado Medicine.
We are all aware of the impact adverse outcomes can have on patients and their families, and the importance of addressing patients’ needs in these situations. Alongside this, we need to consider the effect on the medical providers involved. When a medical provider is facing a lawsuit, COPIC believes we need to do more than just defend our insured. We also believe we need to focus on his or her well-being.
Adverse outcomes can take a significant toll on health care professionals. There is clear evidence that a medical liability claim or lawsuit can trigger severe emotional distress. A July 2015 Medscape article1 titled “Physician Suicide” provided an overview of this issue, saying that litigation-related stress can be a key factor that precipitates depression and, occasionally, suicide. It also noted that:
- A recent survey of American surgeons revealed that although 1 in 16 had experienced suicidal ideation in the past 12 months, only 26% had sought psychiatric or psychological help.
- There was a strong correlation between depressive symptoms, as well as indicators of burn out, with the incidence of suicidal ideation. Over 60% of those with suicidal ideation indicated they were reluctant to seek help due to concern that it could affect their medical license.
“Even when healthy, physicians find it difficult to ask for help of any kind. When they are depressed and feeling less than adequate, they find it even more difficult – and when they do bring themselves to ask, they sometimes find that the help they need is remarkably difficult to obtain,” stated the article.
To address this issue, COPIC launched its Care for the Caregiver program in 2015 to help insured individuals deal with the emotional stress of a lawsuit. When the need is identified, a defendant is matched with a specially trained “peer” physician (from a different specialty) who has personally gone through the legal process.
These peers offer a shared perspective to address difficult feelings – anger, guilt, fear and isolation – often associated with a medical liability claim. Research shows that most health care professionals will face a claim or lawsuit at some point in their careers. Many describe the litigation process as one of their worst professional experiences. And lawsuits can have a significant impact on their personal well-being as well as their family.
Care for the Caregiver strives to provide added support that complements the overall efforts of the defense team. The program was developed with the following goals in mind:
- Facilitate confidential discussions with a peer to encourage open, honest dialogue.
- Focus on the emotional well-being of the individual, not analyzing the medical facts of a case.
- Enhance the individual’s ability to address the situation, build resilience and move forward.
Over the years, COPIC has spoken with numerous insureds involved in lawsuits. One of the pieces of feedback we consistently heard was “if only I could have talked to someone that went through this process.” We knew Care for the Caregiver was an important resource to make available. Not only does it help everyone navigate through a difficult time, but it also attends to the human aspect of medicine and feelings to which we are all susceptible.
COPIC believes that individuals who participate in this program will see the immediate value it offers. Peers provide a unique understanding that only they can offer, they are able to speak from their own experiences, and more importantly, they are there to listen.
When Care for the Caregiver is made available, along with CMS Physician Wellness resources and the services and programs offered by Colorado Physician Health Program, we are making an important investment in the well-being of medical providers. This is essential in ensuring that physicians remain strong and healthy, enabling them to provide the best care for their patients.