Defending your medical career
When someone is falsely accused in any forum or subjected to retaliation for being a whistleblower, consider these items:
1. Check the contract, hospital bylaws, and due process documents, if any. How strong is the doctor's right to employment? Is he "at will", does he have a contract, is he a "full time" VA doctor (which is the equivalent of tenure), is he a tenured professor? If his claim to employment is not strong, he may not be able to make a case (residents, for instance, may not have strong rights, with exceptions). This is an important step in deciding how to "triage" the case.
2. What are the damages? Before contacting a lawyer, estimate potential damages. The damage needs to be in excess of $300,000 before any lawyer will think of taking it on contingency. If the damage to a career is extreme, and the evidence of purposeful vilification is clear, the chances of getting the right lawyer is better.
3. What are the options? If a doctor has other opportunities open to him, he needs to seriously consider them before subjecting his friends and family to hardship. Litigation can consume years, money, and relationships. See "The Insider". This film vividly portrays actual situations you may face.
4. Was whistleblowing involved? If so, the chances of getting a good lawyer go up. Several good law firms are willing to take a "Qui Tam" action to recover misused money. Philips and Cohen is well known: http://www.whistleblowers.com/.
5. Was research integrity or patient care an issue? If so, consider Alan Milstein. He shut down Johns Hopkins and U Penn for violations:. http://www.sskrplaw.com/publications/5-20allan.html
6. Make sure you have the right "cause of action" Many doctors get angry about an issue and file the wrong lawsuit. Make sure that you focus on the most important issue. For instance, a Qui Tam whistleblower suit often has more bite than a discrimination suit (of course, this needs to be individualized to the case). Make sure the potential judgment or settlement is worth more than the cost of the lawsuit.
7. Make use of the web. Several groups have websites that are extremely useful.
Integrity in Healthcare http://www.integrityinhealthcare.com/
Integrity International http://www.whistleblowing.us/ (whistleblower protection).
POGO: http://www.pogo.org/. POGO gives the best advice for federal government cases.
Government Accountability http://www.whistleblower.org/. (all information about possible retaliation is on this very useful website. And you can get an immensely helpful book "the whistleblower's survival guide)
All public interest groups operate on slim budgets. You must be very organized when approaching them, and be appreciative of their time. But they are invaluable.
8. Make use of non-lawyer resources Hiring a consultant, such as Don Soeken (whistleblower protection <email@example.com>), Tom Nugent (reporter/publicist <firstname.lastname@example.org>) is highly cost effective.
Non-lawyer surrogates can help you decide if you have a case, then save hundreds of thousands of dollars (no exaggeration) to make sure you select the right lawyer. Don Soeken will literally work with you everyday for a low set fee. He is the whistleblower's bulldog.
9. Be sure your computer is bullet proof If you decide to take on a case, your computer is your lifeline. Be sure you have a consultant to make your system as reliable as possible. You must have a fail-safe system that works for you. A high speed connection to the internet (known as an "ADSL" line) is cost effective. You must have good backups. You must know your system will not fail in a crisis.
Do not use an email server provided by your employer. Make sure you have virus protection (Macintosh offers an advantage as most viruses don't attack Macs. And they are easy to use for computer "illiterates", including myself) All of this is cost effective. Just consider- a lawyer will cost between $150- 300/ hr. It is critical that you save him time, that you organize and communicate effectively. Making sure your computer is effective is peanuts compared to the potential savings.
10. Make use of federal and state protections Included are the US office of Civil Rights, the AAUP, JCAHO, other regulatory boards. But remember, in many cases these organizations may be aligned with the employer. Watch out for the "fox guarding the chickenhouse". The government accountability project GAP has described all of this in detail on the web and in their book.
11. Litigate only when all else fails Be sure you have carefully weighed all options. If you must go ahead, be sure you have a lawyer of sufficient stature, and that he will take this on contingency.
12. Take care of your health This can be a taxing experience. Put aside time for the gym, relationships, exercise. You must look and feel the best possible even under trying times.
13. Stay cool to outhink those emotional pygmies who lie for power and greed. Anything you say or do is going to be twisted. Stay positive. Believe in your medical system to the extent possible. Always say, "Hospital X is a great place, and it will be even better when it follows its own rules." Take the high road.
Good luck! Defending integrity in this profession is public health. We are all patients. Network with the persons listed above, and remember you are not alone. Many, many people are pulling for you and will help.