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.
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
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.