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Message in Malpractice Murder Mysteries

Chelsea Rice, for HealthLeaders Media, June 13, 2013
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This article appears in the June issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

Serving as an expert witness in a malpractice case several years ago, Peter R. Kowey, MD, the system division chief of cardiovascular disease at Main Line Health System in Wynnewood, Pa., grew increasingly frustrated with the nasty testimony he was hearing in the courtroom. Kowey testified, as a heart-rhythm disorder specialist, that the physician had done nothing wrong, but as the testimony against the defendant continued, Kowey began outlining the story on his notepad.

 Two books later, Kowey has taken out his frustration with the American tort system in Lethal Rhythm, and its sequel, Deadly Rhythm. His soon-to-be trilogy draws from the real-life malpractice cases Kowey has reviewed in his 31 years as an expert witness (his side has lost only once). His protagonist is a vindictive and personally flawed cardiologist trying to solve the murders he is being framed for. Kowey is collecting the revenues from these first two books to host conferences to discuss what can be done to improve the system around malpractice in the United States.

On being an expert witness: I’ve been through one
malpractice case as a defendant myself, and it’s a pretty miserable thing to have to go through, even as an expert witness. When I’m reviewing these cases I’m trying to determine if the physician actually did something negligent. And if they did, my recommendation to the attorney is to get it settled as quickly as possible and not to drag the doctor into the courtroom.

On emotions: When I talk to doctors who have been sued and read the book, it’s almost a catharsis: They are almost happy that the evil people in the book kind of “got it.” So there’s an emotional reaction.  What lawyers have to do in the courtroom is to make doctors sound like an idiot, not only an idiot, but a careless idiot. So doctors react very emotionally to that kind of language.

On defending medicine through fiction: One of the reasons I wanted to write these books is that I don’t think people understand how badly medicine is corrupted by the insanity of the tort system. It really does have a major impact on medicine and we need to change it, but it is a bit of an uphill fight.


This article appears in the June issue of HealthLeaders magazine.


Chelsea Rice is an associate editor for HealthLeaders Media.
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