After over twenty years in the practice of law, I have not filed a single medical malpractice claim or pursued a claim against a doctor or health care professional for professional negligence. Why is this, since many attorneys that represent injured folks in motor vehicle injury claims and other injury claims also do medical malpractice claims?
Folks in health care fields dedicate their lives to helping the injured, sick and disabled. So have I in the practice of law. It would be contrary to our mission, and that of Bliven Law Firm, P.C., to pursue medical malpractice claims. I did not become an attorney to sue doctors – quite the contrary. My family is composed largely of medical professionals and counselors. At our office, at Bliven Law Firm, P.C., we work with doctors (medical doctors, osteopathic physicians, doctors of chiropractic, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, massage therapists and other health care professionals) to assist our clients in their recovery from their injuries and other losses. A big part of representing injured folks when they are injured in a car wreck is getting their medical bills paid. We work to get the bills paid, so clients can get their treatment and get better.
Here in the Kalispell, in the heart of Flathead County and the Flathead Valley, as in other places in Montana, sometimes hospitals, hospital administrators, and even doctors see attorneys who represent injured people – personal injury attorneys – as an enemy – or perhaps a nuisance at best. Among hospital administrators, and even physicians and their staff, “trial lawyers” are not usually popular. We are used to being viewed with suspicion, and frankly, sometimes just flat out hostility. This occurs even when we have never met or had any contact with the office or provider. Unfortunately, because of what some of our colleagues have done and do, suspicion or concern is not entirely unwarranted in general. As they say, one rotten apple spoils the bushel. Physicians spent a great deal of time and energy practicing “defensive medicine” because they are concerned about getting sued for doing what they believe is right and in the interests of their patient, but something goes wrong. I understand. Medicine is an art as well as a science. Sometimes physicians and therapists doing everything correctly, as they are trained and their experience teaches them is the right approach, but patients don’t get better or have bad outcomes. A bad outcome does not mean the doctor or other health care professional did something wrong, and bad outcomes happen sometimes, even when the provider gave the best care possible. Some lawyers spend a considerable amount of their time and energy suing doctors and other health care professionals, others don’t bother to think about the providers concerns or issues. At Bliven Law Firm, P.C., we do not file medical malpractice claims – doctors, nurses and other health care professionals are our allies and friends – not the enemy or a target.Do physicians or other health care professionals make mistakes that contribute to unfavorable outcomes? Everyone makes a mistake at some point in their life, but even those errors do not mean they are below the “standard of care” or are irresponsible.
How do I know this? I grew up in a home where helping others with our careers was held out as a goal to aspire – and my brother is a family practice physician, one sister is a psychiatric nurse, and the other is a counselor. My mother was a nurse and my father a lawyer, then a judge. He taught me many lessons, including how to work with physicians to help clients in a professional and cooperative manner. Not all physicians and nurses are as highly trained, compassionate, dedicated and hard working as my brother and sister, but I believe most are, or try to be. I have great respect and admiration for my brother and sisters in the work they have done for patients, and sacrifices they have made to be care providers, and to continue to do so. Even my wife is a health care professional, and I have learned much from her, and with her while she did her professional education.
In over twenty years of representing the injured, sick and disabled, and working with physicians and other health care professionals – I have learned a few things about how the practice of medicine works, and the challenges health care providers face. Being a health care professional is challenging and demanding, and requires not just a great deal of education, but many skills and qualities. Generally folks enter these professions because they want to use their talents to help others. Unfortunately the economics of health care delivery has an impact on providers, who generally spend far more time than they wish on administration and paperwork, as opposed to the patient care they trained to do. I have also learned a great deal from talking to my family about these issues over the years. Most health care professionals have very long courses of study (physicians have at least 8 years of college, and then often 4-8 years of training in residency after medical school), high work loads, high stress, and tremendous demands placed upon them by the demands of patient care as well as administrative and other requirements. Physical therapists currently also generally earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, and have four years of physical therapy school after college. Many who do not have a DPT, who were educated under the former programs did more course work and hours than a PhD or even some current DPT programs even though they were granted a masters degree in physical therapy, an MSPT. If health care professionals are in private practice, they generally have the headaches of being involved in patient care and all those demands, and on top of it, have to try to run a business. Even those not in “private practice,” but working for the VA or some other agency, are still working to provide health care services to patients in a challenging environment in one form or another, such as the paperwork and the administration. I am very sensitive to these concerns and issues, and do what I can to facilitate care, communication and minimize the impact on them in seeking their opinions which are necessary to establish that treatment is necessary and related to the injury, accident or work exposure.
What sometimes is lost on providers in the system is the dramatic impact on the patient that the opinions expressed by a provider can have on the patient – often just as important as the care rendered. When an attending physician declares an injured worker at maximum medical improvement – MMI – the impact on the patient is dramatic in terms of the care they will (or not) receive, and the impact on their other benefits and life. This is one of many issues which cannot be addressed in detail here, perhaps another time on this blog.
When I practiced law in Oregon (and still do), or when seeking medical opinions outside our immediate area, I enjoy and benefit from talking to and meeting with doctors to discuss their patients I represent, and how best to help them. Communication and cooperation with the provider in the interests of the patient is to the benefit of all involved.This is common in the practice in many areas, but has become circumscribed in our area in the past few years. I miss this dialog and coordination to help patients, and it is frustrating that they are being prevented from speaking to us about their patients. We hope that someday this will be allowed again in this area so patient/clients needs can be served, and the innocent victims of other people’s negligence can get the care they need, while those services timely and appropriately paid. If you are a health care professional treating one of our clients, we welcome your phone call, or other communication.
— Michael A. Bliven