In Iraq, the Sharks Are Sheiks

You think you’ve got it bad with malpractice in the United States? Try being a doctor in Iraq.

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that physicians are nearly being driven out of practice in many areas of Iraq due to the escalation of a long-lived tribal custom of using sheiks as brokers.

Photo via US Fish & Wildlife Service Pacific Flickr stream

According to Post reporter Stephanie McCrummen, it works like this: A patient who is dissatisfied with the results of a treatment or procedure contacts a sheik to intervene with the physician. The sheik generally tries to extract a sum of money from the physician in order to compensate the patient. There may be haggling and discounts. In one case, a discount was granted because the doctor admitted his error quickly.

While this may sound no different than a garden-variety interaction with a plaintiffs’ attorney in America, it gets worse. In some cases, the Post reports, if a physician does not give in to demands for money, the sheik may threaten to kill the doctor or his family.

The article says that this type of sheik-down has long existed in Iraq, but that it has gotten worse since the American invasion and occupation. Some sheiks were paid by American military or U.S. contractors to fight opposition forces, and now they’ve simply come to expect to get their due. They became known as “fake sheiks” or “Condoleezza Rice sheiks,” for the former U.S. Secretary of State.

One doctor said he’d employed a bodyguard to screen out potentially litigious patients. I guess it still might be cheaper than paying a malpractice premium.

— Alicia Ault (on Twitter @aliciaault)


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Filed under Health Policy, IMNG, Practice Trends

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