Below, an excellent Op-ed by Kevin M.D. in “U.S.A Today.” It looks at malpractice from the patient’s perspective. Read the whole piece—the final section explores what we might learn from other countries. Before commenting, be sure to take a look at the NEJM article (see link below).
Any malpractice reforms should put patients first
By Kevin Pho
Whenever the issue of medical malpractice comes up, my fellow physicians and I agree that changes are necessary. Where we disagree is on how to fix the problem. So we all took note when President Obama acknowledged that medical malpractice reform must be considered. In fact, he proposed pilot projects to study how to improve patient safety and change the way we compensate injured patients.
Reforming medical liability has historically been a source of major contention. Many physicians argue that the system is expensive, promotes multimillion-dollar awards disproportionate to the injuries and encourages "defensive medicine." Lawyers say suing doctors is the only way patients harmed by medical errors can seek financial redress. They dismiss the notion that malpractice costs and defensive medicine contribute substantially to health care spending.
This argument overlooks the fact that the liability system often does injured patients a disservice. A 2006 study from The New England Journal of Medicine should give health care reformers something to think about.
Researchers found that the impact of frivolous lawsuits was limited. More concerning was that in one in six cases, patients injured from errors received no payment. Patients who did receive compensation waited an average of five years before their case was decided, with one-third of claims requiring six years or more to resolve. To make matters worse, 54 cents of every dollar that injured patients received were then used to pay legal and administrative fees. These costs do not justify this level of inefficiency.
Furthermore, medical malpractice cases do little to promote patient safety. Although medical errors account for close to 100,000 patient deaths annually, according to the Institute of Medicine, the majority are caused by failed systems or procedures — not physician negligence. Doctors and hospitals ideally should learn from mistakes in order to improve patient care, but that's difficult to do when liability cases are resolved in an adversarial manner.
Problem with caps . . .
To read the rest of the Op-ed click here.