We’ve been continually advocating for reform in the health care industry, encouraging health care providers to prioritize patient safety and to change their current culture that brushes medical mistakes under the rug. To prevent medical malpractice from occurring reform should occur at the source of the problem, namely health care providers, and not at the legal system by penalizing the victims of medical malpractice by limiting their ability to hold wrongdoers accountable. Doctors, nurses, and hospitals should prioritize patient safety, and implement protocols to ensure that preventable medical errors don’t occur and that innocent people aren’t harmed.
Mary Alice McLarty, president of the American Association for Justice, puts it best in her recently published op-ed, when she writes: “lawsuits are only a symptom of the disease. The root of the medical malpractice problem is medical malpractice itself.” She’s referring to the countless preventable medical errors made by doctors, nurses, and hospitals. And she’s absolutely correct. Not only do we agree with her, but doctors, such as Dr. Marty Makary, have been saying that the source of the medical malpractice problem lies with the health care providers themselves. Makary has called out the problems within the culture of medicine, pointing out how changing this culture can lead to a significant decrease in preventable medical errors.
The solution lies with the medical community, and injured patients and their families should not be punished for seeking justice. McLarty accurately points out that the civil justice system allows families of loved ones who have died or have been injured to seek responsibility, and gives health care providers incentive to improve patient care. For this reason, calls from the American Medical Association (AMA), insurance industry, and their lobbyists for medical malpractice reform are wrong.
Not only is it morally wrong, but it won’t lead to a decrease in medical costs and incidents of medical malpractice. McLarty uses her home state of Texas as an example. After passing an act that placed a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages and gave extensive immunity to emergency room doctors, health care costs in Texas increased at a higher rate than anywhere else in the country. Furthermore, the quality of health care did not improve as a result. In fact, in July 2011, the federal Agency for Health Care Research and Quality ranked Texas health care the worst in the nation.
If similar policy changes are made in the tri-state area, we are sure to see similar results. The Government Accountability Office and Congressional Budget Office have both said that taking away patients’ rights will not significantly lower health care costs.
So who benefits from these caps on damages? Where do the “savings” go? Directly into the pockets of insurance companies. McLarty quotes the Center for Progressive Reform and their findings that restricting lawsuits might save doctors money on insurance premiums, “but the vast majority of any savings will most certainly line the pockets of the insurance companies demanding these restrictions.”
Clearly the best way to cut health care costs and increase the quality of health care is to refocus on patient safety, instead of restricting patients’ rights to recover damages caused by medical malpractice – harms and losses such as future medical and life care needs, income replacement and durable medical equipment the patient would never have needed if medical malpractice hadn’t been committed.