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Poor Patients Less Likely to Sue Doctors, Analysis Shows

TUESDAY, Feb. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Poor people are less likely to sue their doctor than patients with more money are, a new study shows.

This finding may come as a surprise to many physicians who think otherwise due to an "unconscious bias" they have against low-income patients, according to study author Dr. Ramon Jimenez, of the Monterey Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Institute in California, and colleagues. The researchers added that this kind of stereotype could make some doctors less willing to treat poor patients or lead them to care for their low-income patients differently.

For the study, the investigators reviewed previous research to analyze litigation rates and medical malpractice claims among low-income patients, and compared them with other groups of patients.

The research team found that poor people are less likely to sue because they do not have access to legal resources and they may not have enough money to initiate a medical malpractice claim, according to the report published in the Feb. 25 online edition of Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research.

The study authors pointed out that some doctors may not treat low-income patients because they are concerned about getting paid for their services. These doctors -- either consciously or unconsciously -- might justify their decision to avoid seeing patients who are potentially hard to collect payment from by accepting the assumption that poor patients are more likely to sue.

By making an effort to be more culturally sensitive, doctors can overcome any bias they have, even unconscious bias, the researchers suggested.

"Helping doctors to become more culturally competent, [that is] able to treat or relate better to a patient from a different race, ethnicity, sex, socio-economic status or sexual orientation, may help overcome these misperceptions," Jimenez explained in a journal news release.

"In addition, improving education and training for the delivery of culturally competent care, and empowering patients to play more meaningful roles in their health care decisions are proven strategies that can positively impact health disparities, the quality of medical care, physician satisfaction and the incidence of medical malpractice litigation," he added.

More information

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has more about the link between income and health care.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, news release, Feb. 27, 2012

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