How real is the medical malpractice myth?

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July 12 2006 10:22 PM

Practice Makes Imperfect

How real is the medical malpractice myth?

Ezra Klein's diagnosis on "the medical malpractice myth" and positive evaluation of a reform proposal by Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama brought medical professionals, public policy analysts, and consumer advocates all out of the woodwork. 

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courtgrunt, a civil-court clerk, scrolls through his county's database of pending cases and finds four medical malpractice suits (out of a random sample of 500), leading him to conclude "there aren't even close to as many medical malpractice lawsuits filed as the media (or extreme right wingers) would like us to believe."

By contrast, claiming that Slate "slants the whole issue as if malpractice were as mythological as unicorns," MomboMan-3 lists a series of points underscoring the very real problem facing doctors today.

Luchese laments that patients are now numbers:

In over two decades of Obstetrics I found that communication with the patient not only humane and professional but allayed questions and concerns about treatment and outcome. Most physicians do not communicate with their patients and hence suffer lawsuits because of feelings of abandonment or subterfuge on the part of the patient. The profession is now driven by technology, money and productivity. Patients are no longer people but numbers. Furthermore the burden to healthcare now and will be those illnesses and diseases caused by lifestyle; obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, and those resulting from society; stress, depression, anxiety, insomnia. All the technology, training and malpractice insurance cannot change this.

But antsi, an obstetrician "for almost ten years," attests to having "seen the pernicious effects of malpractice litigation first hand. Reading this article, I feel like a swimmer being told by someone standing on dry land that the water isn't wet." Read his objections here.

An indignant ShanCan blasts the lack of transparency in the medical profession:

Why is it that any Taco Bell has to be regularly inspected, get a letter grade, and have it posted for all the world to see but it is virtually impossible for me to find out the safety record of the cardiac surgeon who is going to slice me open and literally hold my heart in his hands? Why is it that I can lose my driver's license after a series of violations in which no one is harmed, but a physician can keep his medical license regardless of how many deaths s/he contributes to simply by paying a higher insurance premium, so long as the errors are deemed to be accidental and not negligent? Why is it legal for a doctor or hospital to cover up their lethal mistakes with a pile of money and a confidentiality clause? It is not a secret to anyone who actually reads the literature that the problem is not a rash of frivolous lawsuits but a rash of dangerous doctors and hospitals with no real accountability beyond their own consciences. Kudos to Clinton and anyone else who proposes an idea that may solve a legitimate problem in a way that benefits the public rather than a small interest group like - but good luck getting something so practical and potentially effective through the legislative process.

rcf broadens the debate on medical malpractice costs to include all the players: "Realize doctors are not the only medical providers who make errors. Nurses do, clerks do, aides do, lab techs do, PA's do. Such an error no matter who makes it can lead to a cascade of subsequent errors." Read his reform proposal here.

For Dayenu, the point of medical malpractice cases is "to make patients (or their survivors) whole again. They are not designed to improve health care. In fact, in some ways they fail to do just that, by convincing policymakers that a lawsuit solves the problem for the next patient, when it doesn't. In the first place, the problem isn't just paying claims, it's the cost of medical malpractice insurance. In the second place, is there any proof that malpractice cases do anything to improve health care to individual patients or even stop individual bad doctors from practicing medicine?"

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