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    Tuesday, January 07, 2003

    What We Have Done and What We Have Failed to Do: A plastic surgeon argues that reducing medical errors is a better solution to the malpractice insurance crisis than tort reform:

    In some states doctors in the more high-risk specialities like neurosurgery and obstetrics pay as much as $200,000 a year for malpractice insurance. I have not been sued for malpractice (yet). But my insurance premiums increase each year anyway, forcing me to raise my rates, too. If I'm a good doctor, why do I - and you - have to pay for the errors of others?

    Making it more difficult to file malpractice suits and imposing caps on excessive awards for pain and suffering, as the surgeons in West Virginia are demanding, is a start. But this won't get to the deeper problem: Mistakes do happen, and they have consequences, sometimes dire ones. Rather than focusing on rewarding victims and their lawyers, we should concentrate on creating fewer victims - that means changing how we train doctors, track and correct errors and mete out punishment.

    While reducing error rates is a commendable and worthy goal, there’s no reason to think that this would lower malpractice insurance premiums, nor the rate at which doctors are sued. Data already exists that show that most true cases of malpractice and error don’t result in lawsuits, and that many malpractice cases are of dubious worth. Lawsuits are a necessary evil. They provide us with a civil means of settling our disputes. No relationship is perfect. The doctor-patient relationship is no exception. Bad outcomes are sometimes inevitable. Even when all the decisions and actions were right and no errors occurred. And when things go wrong, we look for a place to cast blame. Even when no blame can justly be cast. It’s human nature. So, even in an error free system, we would still have lawsuits.

    In fact, I’m not sure that the goal should be to reduce the number of lawsuits filed. People should have a right to file suit if they feel they’ve been wronged, no matter how misconceived that notion might be. Better to have the evidence out in an impartial court of law to settle the dispute once and for all than to have the misunderstanding fester forever. What should be curtailed are the unrestrained actions of lawyers who chase after cases of dubious merit to make a buck, who file suit against doctors without checking for culpability (as when they name every doctor whose name appears in a hospital chart), and who milk the jury system for sympathetic juries in the hope of hitting million dollar jackpots. That’s why tort reform is much more crucial to solving the malpractice crisis.

    posted by Sydney on 1/07/2003 08:26:00 AM 0 comments


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