Medical Responsibility and Liability

Part I: Within your group, decide whether each of these statements is true or false. Click on true or false on each line and discuss the reasons for your opinions. Check you answers below and then summarize your discussion for the class.

Any physician has the obligation to diagnose and treat your problem, even if you are a hypochondriac and there is nothing wrong with you.

True False

If your doctor tells you that you need an operation, you should have surgery as soon as possible, no matter what the cost.

True False

If a doctor doesn't cure your illness, you should sue him or her for malpractice right away so you can collect money for damages.

True False

If you don't have enough money for medical care and have no insurance, you can get a private doctor to treat you at home for free.

True False

If someone you don't know needs medical help in an emergency situation, you should provide it in any way you can.

True False

Part II: Answers to Part I

Part III: What other medical issues do you have questions about? Ask your classmates and teacher questions and discuss the answers. If necessary, get information by telephoning hospitals, clinics, or doctors' offices or look up the answers to your questions at the local library.

Exercises taken from The ETC Program by Elaine Kirn and Leslie F. Darmek (Random House, 1989)





















Answers to Part II:  Conversation Exercise. Read the answers and discuss the explanations.

  1. False. No physician has an obligation to treat you, even if you are very sick or seriously injured. If you ask for medical care or obviously need it, however, and a doctor begins to give it, there is an "implied legal contract." A physician in that situation has the responsibility to provide proper treatment until it is no longer needed, you stop asking for care, or he or she withdraws from the case with reasonable notice, giving you the opportunity to find another doctor.
  2. False. Not only do doctors make mistakes, but because medicine is not an exact science, there may also be more than one "right answer" to a health problem. Especially if a physician advises an expensive operation that may have negative results, you should get one or more additional opinions before you agree to surgery (i.e. you should ask other doctors for their diagnosis and advice).
  3. False. The malpractice issue is a serious one in medicine; because many people sue unnecessarily and try to get huge financial settlements, malpractice insurance rates are very high and affect doctor's fees. And only some cases can be considered malpractice: even if a doctor makes a wrong diagnosis or an error in judgment that produces negative results, you must be able to prove that he or she acted unreasonably under the circumstances.
  4. False. All doctors have the right to get paid for their services, even if their treatment is unsuccessful. Private medical care in the United States if very expensive. If you are not covered by an insurance plan through your school or place of work, you should probably buy private medical insurance if you can afford it. Few insurance policies will cover all expenses, however. Individuals and families whose income falls below a certain level may be able to get some financial help from government sources. If you are not eligible for public assistance, you should try to get medical care from a hospital or clinic run by the city, county, state, or federal government.
  5. True. If you are trying your best to help someone in need, you are not expected to have the same knowledge and skill as a physician. You may still be sued if you make a mistake that causes damage, but you will not lose the case unless you have failed to use good judgment or common sense in your treatment. For your own safety and that of your family and friends, it's a good idea to take a course or read a book about first aid so that you don't make serious mistakes in medical emergencies. How would you feel if you were in trouble and people were afraid to come to your aid? Hopefully, fear of lawsuits will not keep people from helping one another.