Thursday, May 8, 2008
Stress From Medical Malpractice Case Causes Doctor To Develop Angina; Doctor Face Elevated Stress and Suicide Rates?
A strange reminder awakened interest late Thursday afternoon during this week's jury trial. An 83 year old defendant had severe angina while walking down from the witness stand following his cross examination. This particular defendant was a doctor being tried for medical malpractice. His co-defendant, another doctor, came to his aid and instructed him to take an aspirin. ( A good tip for most experiencing angina. Aspirin is thought to prevent platelets from clumping together and causing heart damage.) Thankfully, the doctor recovered well enough to attend the last day of trial and see his name (and of the co-defendant) cleared by a favorable jury verdict. While this particular physician has a strong will to live: I could not help to be reminded how stressful the medical profession can be for those involved.
A rarely talked-about paradox exists: doctors are trained to save lives; however, that same training can make physicians efficient at ending their own lives. Approximately 300 to 400 U.S. doctors kill themselves each year. That is thought to be a higher suicide rate than the general population (except perhaps for Washington D. C. prostitutes who threaten to publish names of their famous clients.) One hypothesis is that mental illness is magnified in a profession that elevates and glorifies physicians up to hero status. In such a system, admitting psychiatric problems could be tantamount to exposing Superman to kryptonite and thus constitute a career ending flaw. Consequently, the physicians often go untreated for depression or other mental illness.
What happens when depression becomes too much? Unlike the normal population, doctors have access to prescription drugs. They also know the correct dosage to stop pulmonary and cardiological function. The American Medical Association labeled physician suicide as "an endemic catastrophe." The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has initiated an educational program to help troubled doctors. Unfortunately the AMA does not officially publish suicide statistics. However, men in the U.S. are thought to be four times more likely to commit suicide then women. It is estimated that 23 per 100,000 men will commit suicide. However, when it comes to physicians, male and female suicide rates appear to be equal.
Is there a solution to stress reduction for physicians? From a legal perch trying to peer into the tight nit medical profession, one suggestion would be to avoid medical malpractice trials. Of course, if that happened, some lawyers would need to look for another job.