Patient Lawsuit Challenges San Diego Medical Group’s Malpractice Policy
A San Diego resident has filed a lawsuit attempting to force Scripps Clinic to abandon its policy of "dropping patients if they file a malpractice suit against any of its 300 doctors," the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. The attorneys for Patricia Thompson say that she and her husband are two of "hundreds" of patients who have been dropped by the clinic since it instituted the policy in the mid-1980s. Thompson filed a malpractice suit against two Scripps doctors in March 2000, following an auto accident a year earlier. In June 2000, Scripps asked Health Net, Thompson's insurer, to transfer her to another medical group and also dropped her husband from the clinic. According to Greg Clark, Thompson's attorney, Scripps' policy violates antitrust and fair-business laws, adding that it is both "retaliatory and pre-emptive" because it attempts to prevent patients from filing malpractice suits. "If this is allowed, we're afraid all medical groups will do this. And why wouldn't all doctors do this?," he said. Officials at four other physician groups in San Diego County said they did not have a similar policy, while officials at the San Diego County Medical Society said they weren't aware of Scripps' policy and knew of no other medical group with such rules.
Scripps officials say the practice benefits patients because of the conflicts of interest that can arise from treating someone who has filed a malpractice suit. "Once we've been notified that there's legal action, we believe it's in the (patients') best interest that they receive care from someone else," Scripps CEO Dr. Hubert Greenway said. Dr. James Grisolia, communications chair for the county medical society, said that even assigning a patient to another doctor within a medical group may not be enough to remove a possible conflict of interest. "Although the policy may give the appearance of being retaliatory ... there are other considerations that are more important [such as] whether you have enough doctors that emotions and anger aren't fueled by the lawsuit," he said. But medical ethicists and advocates criticized Scripps' policy, especially given the large number of doctors in its system. Saying that a doctors' group should be "morally and ethically in (the patient's) corner," Gregory Knoll, executive director of the Consumer Center for Health Education and Advocacy in San Diego, said the policy "further destroys what we have been trying to do for years, which is to rebuild the old-style doctor-patient relationship whereby they can be honest with each other" (Fong, San Diego Union-Tribune, 2/1).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.