While tales of patients murdering their medical care providers are very real and very tragic, they’re also rare. But a disturbing new study indicates that thoughts of killing doctors occur more frequently than we might think, particularly among patients who are in pain, undergoing physical rehabilitation, or seeking compensation for a disability.
New Scientist reports that psychiatrist David Fishbain and his colleagues at the University of Miami, Florida, surveyed around 800 physical rehabilitation patients and found that just over 1 in 20, or around 5 percent, admitted that they entertained thoughts of murdering their physician. In a control group of people not in treatment for any condition, around 2 percent reported having felt the desire to kill their doctor in the past.
Fishbain speculates that these urges are related to distrust of physicians, particularly related to disability compensation cases—if a doctor won’t support the patient’s claim, the latter often feels betrayed and angry. Recently, doctors have started apologizing to patients for mistakes in order to curb malpractice lawsuits—an approach that appears to be working. Maybe it’s not a bad idea to start having similar sit-downs with patients litigating over disability.