The Emotion Turmoil of Litigation Stress

By Shelley Greenman, MD, FACEP

The emotional turmoil that results from being named in a medical malpractice suit can be debilitating. It is common for physicians to experience stress during this process. 

Even though medical malpractice suits are a predictable part of providing medical care, few physicians are prepared to deal with the psychologically devastating effects it can have on themselves, their families and their practice. These effects often manifest themselves as physical or mental illness, burnout, and early departure from the practice of medicine.

Common signs of litigation stress include:

  • Restlessness and hyperactivity
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive worry
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest in life’s usual pleasures
  • Diminished libido
  • Substance abuse and self-medication
  • Exacerbation of chronic or pre-existing medical conditions
  • Personal isolation (emotionally distancing one-self from family, friends and colleagues)
  • Professional insecurity (questioning one’s ability to make decisions, changing medical practice, compulsively ordering unnecessary tests)
  • Being short tempered and irritable
  • Being distracted, having difficulty concentrating, being more likely to make mistakes
  • Anger, bitterness, distrust, loneliness, diminished self-esteem and shame
  • Burn out
  • Post traumatic stress disorder
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts, attempts at suicide

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