The man is crashing. His heart has finally given out after several days of fighting his injuries and ailments. The man’s loved ones are crying at his side, and the doctor is running through the halls. When she arrives, what does she find? Instead of helping the dying man, instead of saving his life, the nurses are standing around, doing paperwork so they won’t get sued. The doctor mobilizes them in time, but it is a near and common thing.
This is the bane of modern medical practices: the threat of the lawsuit.
Hospitals are terrified of lawsuits, and it’s easy to see why. They are places where the sick and injured go to get better. Oftentimes these injuries are severe or the sicknesses obscure, thereby requiring complex and specialized treatments. These treatments are difficult and, if screwed up, could hurt or even kill the person receiving them. If the hospital does screw up, then they get sued. The patients sue them, the insurance company refuses to pay and then the hospital gets a bad reputation from getting sued and soon goes under. One bad lawsuit can hurt a hospital for years to come. To avoid this, mounds of paperwork cover every aspect of hospital work-life, ensuring that when the lawyers come to call and the insurance agents start to investigate, the hospital can show them every step that lead up the injury, and thereby hopefully absolve themselves of any guilt by proving it was due to unforeseen circumstances. In theory, this is a good thing, but only in theory.
The problem is that paperwork takes time. It takes effort, and if it is screwed up, it must be done all over again. The time and effort needed to fill out all of these documents is time and effort that is not spent diagnosing, healing or recharging during a break. This causes stress and burnout in doctors and nurses, as the hospitals seemingly prioritize filling out paperwork over helping people. Doctors and nurses already have high suicide and burnout rates; they don’t need the added stress of having to fill out every last little detail of paperwork in between doing all the other monumental tasks that are asked of them. This only makes their jobs harder, and it leads to the terrible scenario described above: people dying in their beds while medical professionals stand around filling out forms so that no lawsuit can be filed against them or the place that they work.
Change is needed, yet it seems impossible. Hospitals are not going to take any action that will leave them more vulnerable to lawsuits, and neither are doctors. This tide of paperwork is only going to increase, and thus being a doctor is only going to become harder. Burnouts are going to get more and more common, fewer people are going to go into the medical field, and more and more people will suffer and die because of it. In preserving themselves from trouble, the hospitals are going to wind up betraying their very purpose of being. We cannot stop them, so stay healthy.