Saturday, May 23, 2009

Doctors as Good Samaritans


As a physician, I took an oath and I believe it is my duty to render aid if I can in just about any situation. I am not particularly "risk adverse" but I can understand when other physicians feel it is just not worth the risk. A malpractice suit can be a disaster.

When EMTs arrive, I give a report to them and back off as they have the tools and training to transport the victim for more advanced care. It happens all the time. A woman faints at a wedding. A child collides at a soccer game and the coaches rush the field. A man has chest pain while 20,000 feet in the air on Jet Blue. A motorcycle spins out of control and throws the rider, right in front of my car. A runner collapses at the Bay to Breakers race in San Francisco. When this happens a little bell goes off in my head before anyone even has to say "Is there a doctor in the house?" So I rush in to provide service.

I never stopped to think about the liability I was incurring by being a "good samaritan". Good Samaritan Laws are meant to protect bystanders from being prosecuted when they help a victim in distress. I was under the impression that Good Samaritan Laws protected everyone who renders aid in an emergency. Upon research, however, I found the statutes are different in every state and have loopholes big enough to drive a truck through. The laws are cumbersome and difficult to interpret and the California Supreme Court recently upheld a victims right to sue after a bystander pulled her from a wreck and she suffered a spinal cord injury from being moved. The court ruled there was not "immediate peril". Other laws only protect the first responder.

With websites like "WhoCanISue.com" and "SueEasy.com" (no I am not providing a link!), it is obvious that anyone can sue for anything. Doctors are prime targets, of course, because we carry malpractice coverage and are juicy deep pockets for trial attorneys.

Because of my training and expertise and comfort in disaster situations, I believe it is my duty to render aid no matter where there is a need. I am not particularly "risk adverse" but I can now understand when other physicians feel it is just not worth the risk to get involved. A malpractice suit can be a disaster.

What do you readers think?

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

What about if it is a health risk to a doctor like with AIDS or a combative patient that could be dangerous in a non contolled environment?

I think it is admiriable and honorable for a physicain or nurse to help and prople should not sue unless it is an extremely valid and good reason. It is sad that a medical professional has to be protective and guarded from providing a service to save someone's life in a event of non working off duty environemnt.

Once I was with a relative in a store during the holiday rush when my relative fell and broke a bone, then started to shake and almost pass out from a drop in blood pressure and wished a physician had been there to help.

Anonymous said...

For us who are not physicians does the oath require you to help others in an energency when you are not in a hospital or your office or is it a personal choice of how comfortable soemone is in the that comes up situation??

Toni Brayer MD said...

Anon 3:45: There is no true oath that physicians swear anymore. The Hippocratic Oath has elements that do not apply to modern age. Helping others in emergencies is a principle that physicians(like others) enact individually.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brayer, glad you are not "risk adverse" and give help where ever an emergency happens to arise any place you might be, that is a true, geniune physician at heart. As well as in the volunteering you have done in the past diaster that you worked in.

Raymond Bouchayer said...

Everyone of us has a "little voice " inside of us that makes us do what we think is right .I often wondered what a Doctor faced with a situation were their medical knowledge was needed and they because of the risk of "Mal practice" walked away .I imagine that it is a very painful mental pain as they have chosen a profession to heal and help their fellow women and men . A very bad Catch twenty -two

jenny said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
ERP said...

Simple. Render help, then when EMS arrives, disappear into the mist....

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Court recently upheld a victims right to sue after a bystander pulled her from a wreck and she suffered a spinal cord injury from being moved. The court ruled there was not "immediate peril". Other laws only protect the first responder.

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